The Italian data and supercomputing centre would be built on the site of an old tobacco factory © ECMWF
The Italian data and supercomputing centre would be built on the site of an old tobacco factory © ECMWF

Supercomputer weather system ‘heads to Italy’

Bologna, Italy, looks set to gain the next-generation supercomputer that will drive Europe’s medium-range weather forecasts from 2020.

It would succeed the current system based in Reading, UK.

Member states of the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) made the decision to relocate the facility on 1 March.

Detailed negotiations will now be held with Italian authorities, with the intention of confirming the choice in June.

The bid from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna Region to erect a new €50m building on the site of an old tobacco factory was regarded as the leading contender, according to an evaluation panel.

Should the legal, financial or technical discussions fail over the next few months a proposal from Finland is set to act as a back-up option.

The ECMWF is an independent intergovernmental organisation supported by 22 full member states from Europe, with another 12 co-operating nations.

Its supercomputer system ingests weather observations to run models that construct forecasts up to 15 days ahead.

These forecasts are then shared with the member national meteorological agencies, such as Meteo France and the UK’s Met Office.

ECMWF’s director general, Florence Rabier, said: “It has been clear for a while now that the current data centre facility does not offer the required flexibility for future growth and changes in high-performance computing technology.

“As laid out in our 2025 Strategy launched last September, we believe that continuing to improve weather predictions relies heavily on our ability to support our science with proportionate computing power. Intermediary goals to 2020 already require that the centre’s next supercomputers should provide a tenfold increase in our computational capacity.”

Half of its €100m budget comes through direct contributions from member states. The other half comes from the EU, which contracts the ECMWF to perform climate change and atmospheric monitoring under its Copernicus environmental programme.