Home Using Distributed Computing to Model Climate Change

Using Distributed Computing to Model Climate Change

The search for extraterrestrial life with SETI@Home perhaps popularized the idea of distributed computing projects. Now NASA has plans to undertake a similar project, using that model not to look for aliens but to help perform research on climate change models.

The initiative is called Climate@Home and is collaboration between NASA, over a dozen Federal agencies, and several universities and private organizations. Goddard Space Flight Center’s Robert Cahalan is serving as the project scientist and has assembled an international team of scientists to help set science goals and determine which parameters to run.

Like SETI@Home, the project will perform the supercomputer processing necessary to test the accuracy of climate change models not with supercomputers themselves, but by distributing that processing across a network of computers – in effect, virtualizing the supercomputing. An effort to help reduce the carbon footprint of this sort of massive processing, software for the Climate@Home will be available for download so that volunteers can run it on their computers as a background process.

This model will be comprised of equations that describe how atmospheric temperature, air pressure, winds, water vapor, clouds, precipitation and other factors all respond to the Sun’s heating of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere. These models help predict how the climate might respond to small changes in the Earth’s ability to absorb sunlight or radiate energy into space. Those participating in the program will run the same model but with slight variations in certain parameters. And from this scientists will be able to examine sensitive climate predictions are.

Climate@Home is modeled on the European project Climateprediction.net. NASA says the project will be rolled out in early 2011.

Photo credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, via “>Flickr

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