Using Quantum Computing to Tell the Weather

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Quantum computing has the potential to change the world and disrupt every industry by providing the opportunity to solve incredibly intricate problems that modern-day supercomputers just can’t achieve – including the potential to map extremely complex weather patterns.

Difficulties Involved in Accurate Weather Prediction

Forecasting the weather can be difficult – no forecast will ever be 100% accurate, but it’s hard to be exact with predictions, especially when the weather is considered changeable and the information available is limited. Advanced warnings of wild weather are necessary to minimize the impact of catastrophic events and the ensuing devastation and loss, but current models can only predict regional-scale weather events such as snowstorms and hurricanes, not more localized events such as thunderstorms. The computing power necessary to keep an eye on the whole globe and predict when an innocent-looking storm might become dangerous just isn’t available – many of the world’s largest supercomputers are already dedicated to weather forecasting but in order to achieve greater accuracy, they need even more computational brute force. Could the advent of quantum computing change this?

What are Quantum Computers?

Quantum computing is not yet commercially viable and is still in its infancy, but it has massive potential. Quantum computers are machines that make use of the unusual properties of matter at extremely small scales. In traditional digital computing, a unit of data or a bit can represent either a "1" or a "0," but in quantum computing a quantum bit, or qubit, can represent "1" and "0" at the same time. Under the right conditions, computations carried out with qubits are analogous to multiple classical computations performed in parallel.

So far, only small quantum computers containing 12 or 16 qubits have been built in the lab, but it is hoped that large-scale quantum computers might one day be able to solve certain problems much more quickly than any classical computers. Because quantum computers would be able to analyze all available data at once, it could give meteorologists a clearer idea of when bad weather might hit while also providing greater insight into how we as humans are influencing our environment by building better climate models. Not only would this warning system allow us to prepare for imminent severe weather, it might also show us how things might shift over longer periods and allow a coordinated response to climate change and its impact.

Quantum Computing Improves Weather Forecasting

The UK Met Office has already heavily invested in quantum computing to help improve forecasting, while IBM Research have collaborated with The Weather Company, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in America to develop a rapidly-updating, storm-scale model that could predict thunderstorms at a local level. Their model is the first to cover the entire globe and will provide high resolution forecasts even in the most underserved areas. It employs IBM’s supercomputing technology and geographical processing units and, in the future, has the potential to combine with quantum computing to help track and predict the meteorological conditions in ways that classical supercomputers are unable to achieve.

Conclusion

When quantum computing becomes practical, supercomputers will be able to predict micro-meteorological events like the formation of each individual cloud or wind eddy – it might even be possible to forecast conditions in your own back yard! But until that happens, meteorologists will just have to rely on improved satellites capable of feeding more data into today’s sophisticated models – more data, after all, equals more accurate predictions.

References and Further Reading

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Kerry Taylor-Smith

Written by

Kerry Taylor-Smith

Kerry has been a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader since 2016, specializing in science and health-related subjects. She has a degree in Natural Sciences at the University of Bath and is based in the UK.

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