KAUST and NCM join hands to upgrade Saudi weather forecasting mechanism

July 27, 2021

Saudi Gazette report

Collaborations between scientists of the Supercomputing Core Lab (KLS) of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and the National Center of Meteorology (NCM) are instrumental in making major headways in the realm of weather forecasting in the Kingdom.

The meteorology center, which was earlier part of the General Authority for Meteorology and Environmental Protection, has been working as a distinguished KAUST partner since 2016.

This collaboration has further strengthened NCM in its provision of high-level services in weather forecasts to enhance the safety and prosperity of society, environmental sustainability and national security.

The collaboration with private sectors, national and international research centers, and authorities, the foremost of which is KAUST, enabled the center to provide the best global practices in this field.

The avenues of collaboration between scientists of KAUST Supercomputing Core Lab (KSL) and NCM includes the provision of guidance and specialized advice on upgrading the center’s supercomputing facility, data storage and backup work at KSL, and development of computing skills for NCM researchers using the region’s top-performing supercomputer Shaheen II Cray XC40 at KAUST, and training of the next generation of NCM engineers in computing facility maintenance.

The center was able to increase the computing power of its supercomputing facility by 10 times through its cooperation with KSL, which improved the center’s ability to provide faster and more accurate results in weather forecasts, and was a critical turning point in the development of its services.

It is noteworthy that the purchase of computers capable of making detailed weather modeling is not an easy task as it requires computer hardware specifically designed for this job, and the procurement process can take years. However, the efforts of KAUST scientists in consulting services in all phases of planning, implementation, evaluation and testing have contributed to raising the computing capabilities of NCM from 10 to 380 teraflops, and work is continuing with KAUST in the second phase to develop these capabilities to 1.8 petaflops.

The increase in computing power allows NCM to run weather forecast models that cover a vast area that includes the Middle East and large parts of Africa and Asia, and are updated every hour. This is a remarkable development from the previous computing power that covered the Middle East and some neighboring regions in Africa and Asia at an average of four times per day, the visibility of weather patterns has also been improved from an accuracy of seven kilometers to 1.6 kilometers, providing more and broader detail.

Dr. Jysoo Lee, director of KAUST Research Computing Core Labs, said in this regard: “Our mission is to develop advanced facilities and technical expertise in the field of supercomputing, and we are pleased to make our infrastructure available to support the capabilities of NCM and help it develop its own infrastructure so that it can independently provide high-quality services.”

NCM was enabled to improve digital forecasting systems including weather, dust and ocean models, as well as nowcasting systems, which play a key role in tracking the path and development of thunderstorms and strong winds. Mohammed Al-Omari, director of Digital Weather Forecasting at NCM, said: “NCM appreciates the great efforts made by KAUST and the KLS team, and we hope to continue this cooperation, which will be primarily in the interest of the nation.”

Apart from helping upgrade NCM facilities, KLS helps the its engineers to conduct environmental research on the super-fast Shaheen-II that can explore different weather conditions such as air pollution, and improve weather forecast models without disrupting NCM’s daily forecasting and monitoring of weather and climate.

By taking advantage of Shaheen II NCM has been able to work with the US National Center for Atmospheric Research to develop and implement a specialized operational weather forecast system that provides a 10-day continuous forecast of dust and sandstorms in real-time, compared to the previous system that provided weather forecasts only for three days. Al-Omari said:

“The cooperation with KAUST led to a qualitative leap in the meteorological work at NCM, and provided its employees with the opportunity to work with a group of the best scientists in the field of supercomputing, as well as using the advanced resources of the Shaheen II.”

One of the main objectives of NCM, besides weather forecasting, is to develop the capabilities of the supercomputing center and prepare national cadres and expertise. The center gives top priority to training its engineers, especially in the next phase of cooperation between the center and KAUST.

KLS provides specialized training for the NCM engineers so as to enable them to create weather models, improve and speed up access to the model files on the Shaheen II supercomputer. The development of national expertise will help ensure excellence in the operations of the Supercomputing Center and weather forecasting at NCM and throughout the Kingdom.

KAUST Chief Computing Scientist Dr. Saber Feki expressed his pleasure at working with NCM and to provide support for its supercomputing center, and to train young Saudi engineers, who have keen interest in current and future technologies and are eager to learn them.

KSL provides backup data storage service for NCM. KAUST’s IT team has worked with the Saudi Telecom Company (STC) to create a high-speed, directly linked network at NCM so as to enable it to speed up the process of backing up data in KAUST, as well as a direct link to the network in the event of a computer failure, ensuring that the center continues to provide the public and government ministries with the necessary alerts and weather forecasts in a timely manner.

“Our collaboration with NCM has demonstrated a strong demand for supercomputing services and world-class technical expertise in this field, and we are committed to developing local talent and enabling supercomputing facilities that meet the Kingdom’s current and future needs,” said Dr. Daniel Acevedo Velez, interim executive director of KAUST Core Laboratories and Research Infrastructure.

On his part, CEO of NCM Dr. Ayman Ghulam, said: “This success opens the door to further cooperation with KAUST in several fields, as well as participation in research and development of meteorological work in the Kingdom.”

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