How a supercomputer is helping AT&T prepare for extreme weather

AT & T has a new risk assessment tool for climate change, developed with the help of scientists and the supercomputing power of the Argonne National Laboratory, CNBC reports. The telecommunications company hopes to protect its infrastructure from the floods and extreme weather events that are expected to increase as climate change continues.

A few years ago, AT & T began to think about the long-term risks that climate change represented for its teams. For example, the company has cell towers and sites throughout the country that are vulnerable to flooding and may need to rise over water that invades them. Elsewhere, services rely on copper cables above the ground that can blow into major storms, and which could be safer buried underground as climate patterns change. "Basically, we did a deep dive: What was our long-term planning and how was that related to climate change?" Shannon Carroll, director of environmental sustainability at AT & T, explains to The Verge.

They then turned to the scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory, such as Rao Kotamarthi, chief climate scientist in the environmental sciences division. He and his colleagues used millions of hours of supercomputing time to analyze how the risk of wind and flood could change in a warmer future. But for the data to be useful, they had to use a much smaller scale than usual. "Basically, you have to model at the scale where this infrastructure exists," says Kotamarthi The Verge . "The most interesting questions people ask are on those scales."

Most climate models operate on the 100-kilometer (62-mile) scale, which means that the data covers 100-kilometer-long square fragments of North America. That gives you a general idea, but not finer details like what is happening in a particular block. The Argonne team managed to get its regional climate models down to the 12-kilometer (7.5-mile) scale and, for the flood data, to 200 meters (656 feet). That's the key to the kind of planning that AT & T wants to use that information for. "It's about the resolution: how close to a view you can get," says Carroll of AT & T.

The analysis of climate data on such a small scale requires a lot of time and computing power, which makes it expensive. "The fight is to reach those scales as much as possible, but still have some useful information," says Kotamarthi. "How far can you go is a good question?" In total, estimates that calculating the numbers took about 80 million hours in parallel processors in the supercomputer of the Argonne National Laboratory.

The Argonne scientists reduced that information and gave it to AT & T, which combined the data with their own mapping tools that show a key infrastructure such as cell towers. and fiber cable. "You can see the potential impacts of climate change superimposed visually," says Carroll. At this time, the company is starting little by little and the map only covers the southeastern United States. "They have been extremely affected in recent years with severe weather events and we also have significant infrastructure," says Carroll.

Ultimately, the goal is to manage the company's risks from the perspective of the future, says Carroll. "We are a company that has existed for more than 100 years, and we plan to be around at least another 100 years," he says. Knowing where to place mobile phone towers, for example, to avoid flooding or extreme winds could mean having to spend less money for repairs in the future. "We believe there are long-term financial benefits to do this."

Correction: Rao Kotamarthi is the chief climate scientist in the environmental sciences division, not the chief scientist in the environmental sciences division.

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