Now, model that replicates tropical cyclone formation five days in advance

July 22nd, 2010 - 6:05 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, July 22 (ANI): A researcher at the University of Maryland-College Park has employed NASA’s Pleiades supercomputer and atmospheric data to simulate tropical cyclone Nargis, which devastated Myanmar in 2008.

The result: the first model to replicate the formation of the tropical cyclone five days in advance.

To save lives from the high winds, flooding, and storm surges of tropical cyclones, forecasters need to give as much advance warning as possible and the greatest degree of accuracy about when and where a storm will occur. In Bo-wen Shen’s retrospective simulation, he was able to anticipate the storm five days in advance of its birth, a critical forewarning in a region where the meteorology and monitoring of cyclones is hampered by a lack of data.

At the heart of Shen’s work is an advanced computer model that could improve our understanding of the predictability of tropical cyclones. The research team uses the model to run millions of numbers - atmospheric conditions like wind speed, temperature, and moisture - through a series of equations. This results in digital data of the cyclone’s location and atmospheric conditions that are plotted on geographical maps.

Scientists study the maps and data from the model and compare them against real observations of a past storm (like Nargis) to evaluate the model’s accuracy. The more the model reflects the actual storm results, the greater confidence researchers have that a particular model can be used to paint a picture of what the future might look like.

Shen said: “To do hurricane forecasting, what’s really needed is a model that can represent the initial weather conditions - air movements and temperatures, and precipitation - and simulate how they evolve and interact globally and locally to set a cyclone in motion.”We know what’s happening across very large areas. So, we need really good, high-resolution simulations with the ability to detail conditions across the smallest possible areas. We’ve marked several forecasting milestones since 2004, and we can now compute a storm’s fine-scale details to 10 times the level of detail than we could with traditional climate models.”

The cyclone’s birth prediction is possible because the supercomputer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., can process atmospheric data for global and regional conditions, as well as the fine-scale measurements like those around the eye of a storm.

As promising as the new model may be, study co-author Robert Atlas cautions that “Shen’s model worked for one cyclone, but it doesn’t mean it’ll work in real-time for future storms. The research model Shen and predecessors at NASA have developed sets the stage for NOAA’s researchers to hone and test the new capability with their own models.”

Shen’s study appears online in the Journal of Geophysical Research -Atmospheres. (ANI)

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