No menu items!

Analysis: Shutdown of Tupã climate forecast supercomputer will bring many adverse effects on Brazil

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Without the National Institute for Space Research’s (INPE) Tupã supercomputer, which may be shut down in August due to lack of funds in the budget, national decisions on food, energy and water security will be jeopardized – in addition having an economic and scientific impact to Brazil.

The National Institute for Space Research’s (INPE) Tupã supercomputer may be shut down in August due to lack of funds. (Photo internet reproduction)

The data processed by the Tupã are provided to the National Center for Natural Disasters (CENAD), the National Water Agency (ANA), the Navy’s Directorate of Hydrography and Navigation (DHN), the Air Force’s Department of Airspace Control (DECEA), the National Center for Natural Disaster Monitoring and Alert (CEMADEN), the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, the National Electricity System Operator (ONS), and state meteorology centers.

The importance is emphasized when considering the fact that Brazil is undergoing its worst water crisis in 91 years, according to the federal government. “At the height of the crisis, we may experience a blackout of this data,” explained INPE’s general coordinator for Earth sciences Gilvan Sampaio. Without the resource, long-term climate forecasts will be impaired, particularly important for extreme weather events, such as storms and drought periods.

The absence of such data could also have an economic impact. According to a March 2021 report by the World Bank, weather forecasting has an impact of US$160 billion on the global economy. In Brazil, agriculture would be one of the most affected sectors.

According to Douglas Lindermann, professor at the School of Meteorology of the Federal University of Pelotas (UFPEL), the lack of long-term climate data can directly influence the planning of planting and harvesting, and the impact would be significant for small producers, because INPE provides all these forecasts for free.

“We have no way of forecasting the long term in such a reliable way, but we are able to provide the producer with a behavioral model. For example, the last harvest delayed the beginning of the rainy season, which caused the soy season to be delayed. And this is the kind of data that can be obtained with a long term forecast. Most companies that work with consulting use INPE’s data, even if they complement it with other services.”

In other words, the big names in agribusiness find alternative tools, many foreign, that provide climate data for Brazil. However, because the country has very peculiar conditions – such as its own microclimates – both large and small companies rely on INPE’s data for an accurate forecast in each region.

Sampaio said that there is still no plan on what will be done for small producers should the Tupã be shut down.

Politics and science

The supercomputer’s long-term forecasts are also critical for the reports Brazil produces as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations program that aims to advise governments worldwide on climate change. “If we don’t have the Tupã data, will Brazil resort to models developed by other countries? Will these models be accurate to reflect Brazil’s needs?” Sampaio wonders.

Alfredo Goldman, professor at the Institute of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of São Paulo (USP), explains that operating a supercomputer like the Tupã is a political tool in each country. He said it is important to have the equipment and to justify its benefits, which should, in theory, happen in Brazil.

“When we talk about a supercomputer, I am also talking about how to sell this to society. Is it a high cost? Yes, but if I have the adequate applications, the correct simulations, I can show that this is good.”

Science is also affected. For climate forecasting models to be accurate, they need information to be constantly processed – the more data, the more accurate they become. Shutting it off will lead to a data void, which disrupts the adjustment of models.

“Just as you don’t turn off your freezer to save energy at night, you don’t turn off a supercomputer. The applications need to run all the time,” says Goldman.

Without a computer of this size, Brazil also runs the risk of losing scientists specialized in climate models. “Weather forecasters are very important. They are the ones who find the solutions for the most accurate forecasts. If we don’t have the means to work with this, they may start to leave Brazil,” explains Sampaio.

The consequences of such a movement are difficult to circumvent in the long term.

With economic, social, scientific and political consequences, Brazil is racing against time. “Tupã should have had an upgrade a few years ago, but there was no such investment. Does this mean that it is not useful? No. It is extremely important equipment. To stop operating such a machine would result in a much greater loss, because this money has already been invested,” explained Plinio Aquino, Computer Science coordinator at the FEI University Center.

Source: Estadão

Check out our other content

You have free article(s) remaining. Subscribe for unlimited access.