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Feature - On a grid and a prayer

Feature - On a grid and a prayer

Predictect rainfall in cm (color scale) over the Indonesian island of Java and part of Sumatra. Magnitude and strength of the wind at ten meters about the ground is also shown.

In Indonesia, weather forecasts powered by grid computing are being distributed twice a day using Google Maps, along with Imsakiyah, the calendar of Muslim prayer times as well as an earthquake update.

Because Indonesia straddles the equator, the temperature is roughly constant all year round - typically a balmy 28°C in coastal regions. So, the most interesting part of a weather forecast is usually how much rain it predicts.

There are often torrential rains between December and March, when the monsoon winds blow from the north and west, while some parts of the country suffer drought when dry air blows north from the Australian continent, between June and September.

Predicting local rainfall is, however, a tricky business, as sudden tropical storms are a typical feature in this region. At the Institut Teknologi Bandung, Tri Wahyu, Basuki Suhardiman and their colleagues have been experimenting with grid computing to provide a more accurate prediction.

The initiative has been developed in collaboration with the EUAsiaGrid Project, which is funded by the European Commission under Framework Program 7, and is based on gLite middleware. So far, the researchers are relying on in-house computing resources, although there are plans to connect to other nodes on INHERENT, the Indonesian Higher Education Network, which includes some 500 universities dotted across the sprawling Indonesian archipelago.

Google Map showing weather prediction for various Indonesian cities, generated using grid computing, as well as information about Muslim prayer times. Other information, such as location and intensity of recent earthquakes, can also be accessed.

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The weather predictions are made starting from satellite images produced by MODIS, an imaging spectro-radiometer that is on board two NASA-managed international earth observation satellites, Terra and Aqua.

The computational code used for the modeling is WRF4G, the Weather Research and Forecasting system for grids, originally developed as part of the EELA project (E-infrastructures shared between Europe and Latin America). This software is being promoted by the Indonesian research team as part of an effort to standardize numerical weather prediction in Southeast Asia.

At present, the cluster available to the researchers enables them to make predictions with a 48-hour horizon, and with a resolution of 10km on the islands of Bali, Java and part of Sumatra. As well as rainfall, the cloud cover, wind-speed and temperature are uploaded to a Google Map on a website twice a day.

As well as a list of Muslim prayer times, the website also provides latest earthquake information. Earthquakes occur as frequently as rain-showers in some parts of Indonesia - up to 200 times a day in the city of Aceh, for example. And it was just one such earthquake, off the coast of Aceh, that caused the devastating tsunami of 2004.

Seen from that perspective, putting prayer times on the same website makes sense.

-François Grey, reporting for EUAsiaGrid

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