18 February 2011

Quantifying climate change with the aid of citizen science.

Although we know we are causing climate change, we have only understand the results in a general way. We knew it would cause more extreme weather but not how it related to any specific event. Sea levels rise, dry areas get dryer, wet areas get wetter and so on. Climate effect we could determine, weather not so much. Now scientists are zeroing in on local weather events. Using sophisticated computer models, British researchers have estimated that global warming made the floods that devastated England and Wales in 2000 two to three times more likely to happen. The leader of the work, Myles Allen of Oxford University, had a particular incentive—his home was one of those flooded. That year the U.K. experienced its wettest autumn since 1766, the year record-keeping began.

This advance in climate science has great potential. It should, for example, aid in lawsuits against major polluters. According to barrister Richard Lord QC, a British expert on climate litigation, "Showing that the chance of an event occurring has increased by say 100% or 200% gives you a much better chance of showing causation. It gets you around one of the legal obstacles." Lord suggested such lawsuits, already being attempted in the U.S., could be used if countries are unable to establish international regulations adequate to control greenhouse gas emissions and the damage they cause—a whole new world of making polluters pay.

Running the models, simulating actual weather versus what it might have been without  greenhouse gas emissions, is enormously demanding of computer time and therefore potentially very expensive. The researchers got around this problem by soliciting the assistance of hundreds of thousands of volunteers and their computers. Citizen science, so to speak. Taking advantage of the Climateprediction.net project, they used 40,000 years of computer time donated by members of the public.

"Climateprediction.net," in its own words, "is a distributed computing project to produce predictions of the Earth's climate up to 2100 and to test the accuracy of climate models." If you would like to get involved, and you have spare capacity on your computer, go to http://boinc.berkeley.edu/ to get the BOINC software and choose (from among many projects) to attach to the Climateprediction.net site. The models will then run quietly in the background. Letting your computer do the work while you barely lift a finger, you can become a citizen scientist and make a significant contribution to dealing with climate change, humanity's biggest challenge.

No comments:

Post a Comment