NASA will be calling on people worldwide to help determine the accuracy of a computer model that scientists use to predict climate change. The initiative, called "Climate@Home," is unprecedented in scope. Never before has NASA attempted to recruit so many people to help perform research vital to forecasting the Earth's climate in the 21st century under a wide range of different situations.
NASA's Earth Science Division (ESD) and Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) have strategically partnered to manage the Climate@Home initiative. This effort will include collaborations between the 10 NASA Centers, the 13 Federal agencies of the USGCRP (United States Global Change Research Program) along with several universities and private organizations.
Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC)'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. GSFC's senior advisor to the CIO, Myra Bambacus, serves as the project manager and will run this initiative.
Participants need no special training to get involved in Climate@Home. All they need is a desktop computer or laptop. Volunteers will be able to download the computer model to run on their computers as a background process whenever the computers are on, but not used to their full capacity.
The climate model that volunteers download is made up of mathematical equations that quantitatively 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. Models help predict how the Earth's climate might respond to small changes in Earth's ability to absorb sunlight or radiate energy into space.
Scientists traditionally have used supercomputers to test the sensitivity and accuracy of climate models. With these powerful machines, they are able to run millions of calculations, each computing a different scenario or combination of circumstances such as varying levels of chlorine or water vapor in the atmosphere.
Instead of using supercomputers in this effort, NASA is creating a virtual supercomputing network that spreads the data-processing chores across thousands of computers. Such a task-sharing initiative eliminates the need to buy additional supercomputers, which consume enormous amounts of energy, and reduces the "carbon footprint" of running these calculations.
Prior to the initiative's official roll out in early 2011, the project will be announced in the news. The project website will provide instructions on how to download the models and supporting computer software. The goal is to have recruited tens of thousands of participants by the time the initiative begins. Each participant will run the same model but with certain parameters slightly adjusted. Scientists will examine the resulting sensitivity of the climate predictions to those adjustments, resulting in a better understanding of the parameters that should be studied in the future.
Climate@Home will have the option of using the same high-level architecture developed for "SETI@Home," a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program. The initiative also is modeled after a similar project coordinated by the Oxford e-Research Centre in the United Kingdom called Climateprediction.net.
Climate@Home will test the accuracy of a model developed by the Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) in New York, and will serve as a trailblazer to explore the accuracy of other models as well.