Climate Modelling in Low Precision: Effects of Both Deterministic & Stochastic Rounding.

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  • 1 University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  • | 2 University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  • | 3 University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
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Abstract

Motivated by recent advances in operational weather forecasting, we study the efficacy of low-precision arithmetic for climate simulations. We develop a framework to measure rounding error in a climate model which provides a stress-test for a low-precision version of the model, and we apply our method to a variety of models including the Lorenz system; a shallow water approximation for ow over a ridge; and a coarse resolution spectral global atmospheric model with simplified parameterisations (SPEEDY). Although double precision (52 significant bits) is standard across operational climate models, in our experiments we find that single precision (23 sbits) is more than enough and that as low as half precision (10 sbits) is often sufficient. For example, SPEEDY can be run with 12 sbits across the code with negligible rounding error, and with 10 sbits if minor errors are accepted, amounting to less than 0.1 mm/6hr for average grid-point precipitation, for example. Our test is based on the Wasserstein metric and this provides stringent non-parametric bounds on rounding error accounting for annual means as well as extreme weather events. In addition, by testing models using both round-to-nearest (RN) and stochastic rounding (SR) we find that SR can mitigate rounding error across a range of applications, and thus our results also provide some evidence that SR could be relevant to next-generation climate models. Further research is needed to test if our results can be generalised to higher resolutions and alternative numerical schemes. However, the results open a promising avenue towards the use of low-precision hardware for improved climate modelling.

Corresponding author: edmund.paxton@physics.ox.ac.uk

Abstract

Motivated by recent advances in operational weather forecasting, we study the efficacy of low-precision arithmetic for climate simulations. We develop a framework to measure rounding error in a climate model which provides a stress-test for a low-precision version of the model, and we apply our method to a variety of models including the Lorenz system; a shallow water approximation for ow over a ridge; and a coarse resolution spectral global atmospheric model with simplified parameterisations (SPEEDY). Although double precision (52 significant bits) is standard across operational climate models, in our experiments we find that single precision (23 sbits) is more than enough and that as low as half precision (10 sbits) is often sufficient. For example, SPEEDY can be run with 12 sbits across the code with negligible rounding error, and with 10 sbits if minor errors are accepted, amounting to less than 0.1 mm/6hr for average grid-point precipitation, for example. Our test is based on the Wasserstein metric and this provides stringent non-parametric bounds on rounding error accounting for annual means as well as extreme weather events. In addition, by testing models using both round-to-nearest (RN) and stochastic rounding (SR) we find that SR can mitigate rounding error across a range of applications, and thus our results also provide some evidence that SR could be relevant to next-generation climate models. Further research is needed to test if our results can be generalised to higher resolutions and alternative numerical schemes. However, the results open a promising avenue towards the use of low-precision hardware for improved climate modelling.

Corresponding author: edmund.paxton@physics.ox.ac.uk
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