The TimesOnline ran a story last week about the UK Met Office’s new £33M ($65M, roughly) IBM super. Evidently some public reaction to the computer’s carbon footprint has been negative
For the Met Office the forecast is considerable embarrassment. It has spent £33m on a new supercomputer to calculate how climate change will affect Britain – only to find the new machine has a giant carbon footprint of its own.
“The new supercomputer, which will become operational later this year, will emit 14,400 tonnes of CO2 a year,” said Dave Britton, the Met Office’s chief press officer. This is equivalent to the CO2 emitted by 2,400 homes – generating an average of six tonnes each a year.
This is a point of sensitivity in the UK because they’ve recently been in the business of publishing admonitions about the seriousness of not reducing carbon footprint
However, when it came to buying a new supercomputer, the Met Office decided not to heed its own warnings. The ironic problem was that it needed the extra computing power to improve the accuracy of its own climate predictions as well as its short-term weather forecasting. The machine will also improve its ability to predict extreme events such as fierce localised storms, cloudbursts and so on.
Met Office officials are arguing, correctly in my opinion, that supercomputing is the only way to get a handle on climate change and the potential result in the environment of changes in human behavior through energy consumption policy. But, they clearly did not get in front of this perception problem. Perhaps there is a word of warning here for other agencies that invest in supercomputing and work on climate policy? (I’m thinking of you, DoE.)