STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss. A new generation of numerical weather models is poised to give Navy Sailors improved capability with a clearer, sharper focus and greater long-range accuracy, which gives the Navy an advantage in ship safety and electromagnetic warfare through more accurate weather forecasts.
The two new models, Naval Environmental Prediction System Utilizing the Non-Hydrostatic Unified Model of the Atmosphere (NEPTUNE) and Earth Systems Prediction Capability (ESPC), are still in development, but Naval Oceanography leaders say their impacts will be beyond anything in use today.
NEPTUNE, the new global atmospheric model, is scheduled to be operational in 2022, and ESPC is the first model to tightly couple atmosphere, ocean, land and ice in an atmospheric model.
“These two models represent the next generation in weather model technology,” said Dr. Bill Burnett, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (NMOC) Technical Director. “Naval Research Laboratory and Naval Postgraduate School researchers and scientists incorporated their latest breakthrough technologies into these models, which will improve the science of weather forecasting for many years. By coupling the Navy’s weather, ocean, wave and ice models the way the earth system is coupled, we will be able to provide the Navy with accurate, longer range forecasts.”
Rear Adm. John Okon, NMOC commander, at the Sea-Air-Space meetings in May called NEPTUNE “a game changer.” NMOC Sailors and civilians forecast weather and oceans for all Navy operations. Okon said the need for the enhanced weather forecasting capability in NEPTUNE is so critical to his command’s mission that he is trying to have it operational a year early, pushing more resources into the development process.
“Now that’s scheduled to go IOC (operational) in ’22, we’re looking to speed the capability to operations because it changes our view of the forecast environment,” he said.
In testing, ESPC has proved most effective in long-range forecasting. Current atmospheric weather models are effective out to 15 days. Burnett said that ESPC will ultimately show predictive skill out to 90 days, but the immediate goal is 45 days, three times the time length of the most effective models used today.
An accurate 45- to 90-day weather forecast provides a key advantage for operational planners. For instance, it could forecast tropical systems weeks in advance, providing a competitive advantage to Navy operational planners to enable fleet decisions.
NEPTUNE is a global model, but scalable to specific areas with a resolution of about 13 kilometers, which means the model can show conditions in a magnified 13 kilometer box. Subsequent versions will try to drive down the resolution. Navy weather forecasters currently run a global model, Navy Global Environmental Model (NAVGEM) and, for specific areas, regional models with higher resolutions, only to about 30 kilometers.
Because NEPTUNE can look at smaller areas interest with a magnifying glass while it looks at an entire region, Navy weather modelers won’t have to run multiple additional models to forecast smaller geographic segments, which saves supercomputer resources and allows quicker delivery of the vital information to Sailors forward.
“So with NEPTUNE, we have one model running instead of 10 or more [for an operation],” Burnett said.
In the present operational environment, for instance, for specific operations Navy oceanographers run NAVGEM, the global model, and then run regional models, primarily the Coupled Ocean Air Ocean Mesoscale Prediction System (COAMPS), that forecast smaller, focused high interest areas at higher resolutions. And for every high resolution area highlighted, the modelers have additional model runs. NEPTUNE will ultimately be able to replace the global and regional or small-scale models.
NEPTUNE is more than just an improvement in traditional weather modeling; it represents a paradigm shift. The model is based on a new way of approaching weather forecasting because of the complex mathematics that run the algorithm.
With ESPC, researchers are still discovering the potential.
ESPC is revolutionary because it includes all parts of the natural environment in the forecast – atmosphere, ocean, land, and ice. It has been in research and development for about a decade. It also can forecast in the upper atmosphere for the electro-magnetic spectrum and may have applications for space weather. Researchers are still studying applications for the model and are exploring modifications that can deliver better forecast capability.
“We don’t even know all the things we can do with it,” said Kevin LaCroix, NMOC weather technical lead. “We have developed this great tool that has applications that we haven’t discovered yet.”
ESPC will run as an ensemble – a model that is run multiple times with a slight change in the initial data with each run in order to better reflect the range of possibilities of a weather system.
NMOC, a part of the Navy Information Warfare Enterprise, has approximately 2,500 globally distributed military and civilian personnel who collect, process and exploit environmental information to assist fleet and joint commanders in all warfare areas to guarantee the U.S. Navy’s freedom of action in the physical battlespace from the depths of the ocean to the stars.
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