The Cray XC40 supercomputing system

This hugely complex Government IT project was successfully completed in December 2016, delivered early and on budget. Some fifteen times larger than its predecessor, this  major science infrastructure investment has enabled the UK to continue to lead the world in weather, climate and environmental science high-performance computing.

Our supercomputer consists of three main systems - an identical pair of machines and a single larger system in a purpose-built data centre nearby. The twin identical machines provide a highly resilient capability for running time-critical operational weather forecasts, whereas the third system provides research, development and collaboration capabilities.

At the time of installation all three phases of our current supercomputing system appeared in the top 50 of the world’s most powerful computers. The Met Office’s supercomputer capability currently remains one of the most powerful in the world dedicated to weather and climate.  

Facts and big numbers

Our three Cray XC40 supercomputing systems:

  • Are capable of over 14,000 trillion arithmetic operations per second – that’s more than 2 million calculation per second for every man, woman and child on the planet.
  • Contain 2 petabytes of memory enough to hold 200 trillion numbers.
  • Contain a total of 460,000 compute cores. These are faster versions of those found in a typical quad-core laptop.
  • Contain 24 petabytes of storage for saving data - enough to store over 100 years worth of HD movies

This power allows the Met Office to take in 215 billion weather observations from all over the world every day, which it then takes as a starting point for running an atmospheric model containing more than a million lines of code.

The value of the supercomputing system

By the end of its life, the supercomputing system will have enabled an additional £2bn of socio-economic benefits across the UK through enhanced prediction of severe weather and related hazards.

This includes benefits to aviation from better forecasting at airports, more sophisticated modelling of flooding, more detailed information for the energy sector and new research on climate impacts to inform long-term planning and action.

Our supercomputing system has helped to unlock new science and to introduce even more detailed forecasts and advice. This information is critical to protecting and saving lives, improving UK resilience to high-impact weather and supporting UK economic growth,

Increased capability

The increased capacity of the current supercomputing system has enabled us to extend our  forecast lead times, expand the area covered by our UK model and improve the accuracy of our prediction of small scale weather such as showers.  Detailed predictions for the UK now take place every hour instead of every three hours, giving us crucial and timely updates when extreme weather is approaching.   

Because of improved science and increased computing power, today’s four-day forecasts are as accurate as one-day forecasts were 30 years ago. The UKCP18 project harnessed the latest science and supercomputing capabilities from the Met Office, combined with the expertise of the Environment Agency and Defra. This is providing crucial information about how we can expect our climate to change over future decades, helping decision-makers assess the full range of risks from the changing climate and advise how we should adapt.

Supercomputing is fundamental to the Met Office’s weather and climate science and services. Future technology advances will continue to increase forecasting accuracy and enable more complex and realistic modelling of real-world processes on weather and climate timescales, ensuring the Met Office continues to provide the best predictions and advice.

Future capacity

We have recently received Government approval to enter procurement to replace our existing supercomputing infrastructure in 2022, at the end of its useful life.  In doing so we also seek to increase our supercomputing capacity and performance sufficiently to support our weather and climate operational and research workloads for the next decade.

This investment will help us provide the information Governments need to build a more resilient world in the changing climate. It will

  • help support the transition to a low carbon economy across the UK;  
  • enable the provision of earlier more accurate warnings of severe weather on a local level;
  • inform and support decision making to protects lives, property and infrastructure now and in the future, supporting global resilience and security;
  • ensure the UK continues its leadership role in weather and climate science and services, sharing this expertise to support overseas partners and vulnerable people.

This infographic below summarises the benefits the increased supercomputing capacity will deliver.