The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) has bought one of the world's most powerful supercomputers for $12.7 million, which it will house at Evans Bay in Wellington.
Chief executive John Morgan says the IBM Power 575 supercomputer will be the largest in the southern hemisphere used for climate-change research.
Research, Science and Technology Minister Wayne Mapp says the computer is an "essential core capability for an advanced nation participating in successful research".
Morgan says the computer is 100 times more powerful than Niwa's 10 year-old Cray T3E supercomputer, which it will replace. It will allow Niwa to run computer simulations more quickly and provide more advanced warning of hazards such as flooding.
"Industries that are climate sensitive, such as the energy sector, farming, horticulture and tourism, will benefit directly from Niwa's ability to make more accurate and more specific forecasts," he says.
The Insurance Council estimated claims from flooding last winter at $68m. The floods in the central North Island in 2004 cost more than $400m.
Niwa says the supercomputer will also be used to support the Natural Hazards Research Platform, a $140m, 10-year research programme announced by Mr Mapp this month.
Its goal is to better understand natural hazards such as volcanoes, earthquakes and severe weather.
Funding for the supercomputer was budgeted for by the previous government as part of a $58m three-year capital investment programme, which also included funding for upgrades to Niwa's ships and offices. Cabinet approved the purchase last month.
The supercomputer will be connected to Karen, a high-speed research network linking universities and research institutes, making it available to scientists throughout New Zealand for other research.
The computer should not contribute too much to global warming.
Niwa says IBM supercomputers are rated the most efficient in the world. Its system will be cooled using sea water drawn from Evans Bay, cutting the computer's energy consumption by 40 percent and saving the equivalent of the electricity used by 50 households.
The IBM computer will be capable of performing 34 trillion calculations a second, and will have 600,000 gigabytes of disk storage.
Its tape library will store 5PB of data, the equivalent of a million DVDs. The device has 1792 processors and 3.6 terabytes of memory. The processing power of the computer will be nearly doubled to 65 teraflops in 2011, when extra disk storage will also be added.
Niwa says the supercomputer is similar to those used at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US National Center for Atmospheric Research and the British Met Office, which will help underpin research collaborations with such centres.