Chinese Supercomputer To Forecast Smog

The best use of tremendous calculating power? Figuring out how easy it will be to breathe today.

Smog in Beijing

Berserkerus, via Wikimedia Commons

Old supercomputers don't die, they just get practical day jobs. China's Tianhe-1A, the fastest supercomputer in the world in 2011, is now being put to use tracking the terrifying and deadly clouds of pollution that come with burning almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined, according to a report from Xinhua, a state-owned media company.

Tianhe-1A will process data from 668 pollution monitoring points in 114 cities, and will hopefully alert people when it's time to stay inside. Smog has been so bad recently that Harbin, a city of 10 million in northeastern China, had to shut down schools and its airport. Shanghai, on China's eastern coast, warned the elderly and children against going outside for seven straight days, because of the harmful smog. In 2009, the World Health Organization estimated that premature death cost China $100 billion that year.

Forecasting the most dangerous days to be outdoors is a much more helpful move than claiming smog is beneficial to China, which the Global Times (another Chinese state media company) did on Monday. Such poor responses to the China's chronic pollution problem have provoked bitterly cynical responses. Earlier this year, a Chinese billionaire debuted a line of designer canned air, for the luxury of breathing and not dying.

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