Super-model for a worldwide stage

Demands for new weather and climate predictions are unprecedented as nations struggle to understand their exposure to risk from severe climatic events.

NIWA is a key player in one of the world’s most successful forecasting and climate prediction systems – the global Unified Model Partnership. It’s a system that draws on a wide range of science and high performance computing capacity to predict the world’s weather and model future climate scenarios. 

Originally developed by the UK Met office, the Unified Model can predict weather at a global level in timescales of hours to weeks, as well as modelling climate for decades to come. 

NIWA was a founding member of the international partnership and continues to play a pivotal role in its development. 

The partners recently gathered in Wellington for a NIWA-hosted conference to celebrate the first five years of the partnership and to commit to a further five years of international collaboration. 

The gathering drew meteorologists and technical experts from the UK, Australia, Korea, India, USA, Singapore, Poland and South Africa and reinforced the need for accurate forecasting to cope with a changing global climate. 

NIWA climate scientist Dr Sam Dean describes the model as an example of the power of international collaboration. 

“It has already proved invaluable in forecasting tropical cyclones, floods, sea-level storm surges and fire risks across the world,” he says. 

“A growing number of countries and organisations are using the model as the climate and weather predictor of choice.” 

Dean says the strength of the UM is underpinned by the science that informs it, and the range of international collaborators working to improve the modelling systems. 

Dr Michael Uddstrom addressing the Unified Model conference.

Forecasting visionary 

Dr Michael Uddstrom was the first scientist from outside the United Kingdom to adopt the Unified Model. 

The recently retired NIWA environmental forecaster and High Performance Computing manager was a founding member of the Unified Model Partnership and has worked tirelessly to position NIWA at the heart of the global climate collaboration. 

Uddstrom introduced supercomputing to New Zealand and was instrumental in NIWA’s purchases of supercomputers in 1999, 2010 and 2018. 

These high performance computing facilities have revolutionised NIWA’s climate forecasting and supercharged New Zealand’s ability to model future scenarios.