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Climate-change supercomputer causes pollution storm

By Andrew Heining / August 28, 2009

Barbecue summer? This beachgoer in Skegness, eastern England, doesn't think so. Turns out, the supercomputer that helped produce a less-than-stellar summer forecast for Britain is a major polluter.

Darren Staples/Reuters

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There were a few red faces in Britain this week – and not from sunburn – as it was revealed that a $48.9 million supercomputer hailed for its potential contribution to climate change research is one of the nation's top emitters of carbon dioxide.

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As The Daily Mail reports, the 1-petaflop machine (that's 1,000,000,000,000,000 calculations per second) installed last year at the Met Office, the nation's chief weather forecasting body, uses 1.2 megawatts of energy to run – enough to power 1,000 homes. That's good enough to land the facility on a list of worst-polluting public buildings in Britain, joined by hospitals and "large leisure centers."

Many, including Met Office spokesman Barry Gromett, were quick to argue that the work done by the supercomputer validates its hearty appetite. Grommet claims that the machine's "severe weather warnings could help to save lives and its predictions for the airline industry helped to save 20 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year," the Times Online reports.

"Life is full of ironies and I think this is one of those situations," Friends of the Earth spokesman Maurice Spurway told the Mail.

This is the second time the supercomputer has caught a bad rap this year. In April, Met Office meteorologists predicted a "barbecue summer" ahead. Guess what? June was nice, but by the end of July, Britons were sloshing in a month's worth of rain, and the Met Office changed its tune.

Danny a hurricane? No.

Meanwhile, Danny, the tropical storm that some had predicted would strengthen into the first hurricane to hit New England in 18 years, has weakened, and now represents, "at most, a relatively minor threat to most of the East Coast." Still, Boston was bracing for a busy wet weekend – services for Sen. Ted Kennedy Saturday and the annual college student move-in rush could be met with 2-4 inches of rain.

Last week, in anticipation of Bill, the first hurricane of the 2009 season, Innovation blogger Matt Shaer told us about next-generation storm trackers. Check them out to see if you can have a barbecue of your own – and tweet about it: we're @CSMHorizonsBlog.

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