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NIWA Selects IBM To Provide New Supercomputer To Advance Environmental Forecasting

Accurate environmental forecasting is essential for the future growth of some of New Zealand’s most important industries

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Auckland, New Zealand - 31 Aug 2009: The National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and IBM today announced a multi-million dollar partnership where NIWA will purchase one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers for use in environmental forecasting.

NIWA Chief Executive John Morgan says that the new IBM Power 575 supercomputer and its supporting infrastructure will cost $12.7 million and is one of the most significant single investments in science in New Zealand. NIWA’s new supercomputer will be the most powerful climate research supercomputer in the Southern Hemisphere.

“We have no doubt it will provide benefits for all New Zealanders, as accurate environmental forecasting is essential for the future growth of New Zealand’s most important industries,” he says.

“Industries that are climate-sensitive - such as the energy sector, farming, horticulture and tourism - will benefit directly from NIWA’s ability to make more accurate and more specific forecasts. The new supercomputer will also allow NIWA to improve early warnings of the effects of severe events, such as flooding and storm surges.”

IBM New Zealand’s Managing Director Jennifer Moxon says, “The IBM supercomputer will enable NIWA’s environmental forecasting models and will help New Zealanders make smarter decisions about how best to protect themselves and their families, properties and businesses from flooding and other hazards caused by severe weather-related events.”

The new supercomputer has one hundred times the computational power of NIWA’s current supercomputer and five hundred times the storage.

It will be used to simulate New Zealand’s past, present and future climate. On the present supercomputer, only a few decades can be simulated, but the new computer will enable complex simulations that describe hundreds of years of New Zealand's climate. The new models can account for the effects that land, ocean and atmospheric interactions, and human activities, will have on our future climate.

“NIWA plans to undertake complex and innovative research using this highly scalable IBM supercomputer. New Zealand's future competitiveness and economic growth depends on this ability to innovate, and high performance computing drives more innovation than any other technology," says Ms Moxon.

Hazards forecasting models that took 80 minutes to complete on 40 percent of the previous supercomputer will now take 8 minutes on about 4 percent of the new system – allowing more complex and comprehensive forecasting models to be developed.

These capabilities will have a significant impact. For example, flooding remains New Zealand’s most costly year-on-year physical hazard. Claims from damage caused by weather events in July and August last year are estimated at $68 million, according to the Insurance Council of New Zealand, and the 2004 Central North Island floods alone resulted in insurance claims of more than $400 million.

Given the high costs associated with flood damage, the ability to improve flood forecast lead times is expected to deliver significant economic benefit to New Zealand, Mr Morgan says. “The United Kingdom Met Office estimated the benefit to cost ratio of their similar supercomputer was nine times that of the total cost of ownership, based solely on its capability to improve flood forecast lead times.”

The supercomputer will also provide more computational power for NIWA’s world-class environmental forecasting system EcoConnect. EcoConnect provides forecasts of climate and weather-related information that are used by regional councils, energy companies, port companies, and other customers to mitigate hazards to their activities.

A recent survey by found that IBM supercomputers are the most energy efficient in the world. NIWA’s new system will be cooled by an innovative water system, which will reduce air-conditioning needs by 80 percent, in turn reducing typical energy consumption by 40 percent. The system includes using sea water from Evans Bay, which is adjacent to NIWA’s facility in Wellington. This will save the equivalent of 50 households of electricity.

The supercomputer will be available to scientists throughout New Zealand through the Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network (KAREN).

The IBM Power 575 also supports NIWA’s crucial role in the recently-announced Natural Hazards Research Platform, where different research organisations work closely together to understand, model and forecast natural hazards.

The supercomputer is similar to those used at major global environmental forecasting and research centres, such as the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and the UK Met Office, and will underpin research collaborations with such international centres.

About NIWA, National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research
NIWA is a Crown owned research and consultancy company, with a global reputation as experts in water and atmospheric research. NIWA's mission is to conduct leading environmental science to enable the sustainable management of natural resources for New Zealand and the planet. For more information, visit

About IBM
IBM is a business solutions company that translates advanced information technologies into business value for clients through its professional solutions, services and consulting businesses. For more information, visit

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