On Monday, the media reported on a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey detailing the consequences of a winter ‘superstorm’ scenario that would strike the US West Coast and produce precipitation levels exceeding those experienced on average once only every 500 to 1,000 years. How bad is that? The model depicted a storm that could last for more than 40 days and dump 10 feet of water on the state. Climate scientists have long said that rising temperatures could increase the intensity of storms and a superstorm is not outside the realm of possibility.
At the same time, the media also reported this week that Russia’s deadly heat wave last summer (the worst in a 1,000 years according to the head of the Russia Meteorological Center) was driven primarily by a natural weather phenomenon, not man-made causes. A natural weather phenomenon killed nearly 11,000 people in Moscow, caused widespread wildfires, and reduced the country’s grain harvest by a third? Yes, according to scientists.
These two events indicate that we really don’t understand climate as well as we should. That’s where we come in to play.
Most are aware of the distributed computing project known as SETI@home, which is a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Everyday citizens participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data on their home computer.
Climate modelers have gotten in on the game of using distributed computing with Climateprediction.net.
The scientists’ goal is to produce predictions of the Earth’s climate through year 2100. These predictions must be tested for accuracy, which can occur by using the ‘free time’ on home computers. Participants give up processing time on their computers when the machines are turned on, but not used to their full capacity.
Do It Yourself climate modelers can choose various scenarios to support. One such project is the Seasonal Attribution Project, which runs simulations to determine the extent to which the risk of extreme weather events is attributable to human-induced climate change. Specifically, the team examines the United Kingdom floods of Autumn 2000, the wettest on record since 1776. The region received roughly 19 inches of rain, or double the seasonal average. The models examine various scenarios both with and without various human-induced variables.
Climateprediction.net is one way that we can all lend a hand to better understand the consequences of climate change. Download the necessary software and start analyzing climate data in your (computer’s) free time.