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Your PC - a weather bureau?
Tuesday, 13 August 2002
Predicting weather is an unpredictable business.
Tired of inaccurate weather forecasts? You can be part of a project to inject more certainty - by signing up your PC to help with a massive distributed computing program.
Called Climateprediction.net, the program aims to recruit the downtime of computers - when they are on but not being used - to run a weather model with a large number of different parameters.
The aim is to find out which of 10 parameters - such as the height of grass on the ground or the speed at which ice falls in the air - matter to forecasting. This will help establish why current weather forecasts are unreliable.
"To do that requires a huge amount of computing power," said Dr Leonard Smith from Pembroke College in Oxford; "more computer power than any climate centre has in the world."
Dr Smith is giving public lectures about the project around Australia under the 2002 Selby Fellowship, which brings an international scientist to Australia every year.
For each of the 10 parameters there will be 12 sets of starting conditions, one for each month. The numbers start to get very large.
"Very quickly you get up to half a million runs," calculated Dr Smith.
The first half of the computing project is retrospective - running the model from 1950 to the year 2000. The model's results will then be compared with what actually happened over that time, which will allow researchers to determine which parameters in the model affect the weather in real life.
Parameters (or combinations of parameters) found not to affect the weather will be eliminated from the second part of the experiment, and those that survive will be redistributed to run the second part of the program - which will forecast from 2000 until 2050.
And this is where you come in. By signing up your PC to work on the project in its 'downtime', you can run one of these predictions and contribute to the project.
Distributed computing has already been used successfully for projects like http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/. The SETI@home team has helped set up the weather prediction project.
Volunteers will receive a CD with a program and a set of instructions. Each person will be given a unique starting point between 1950 and 2000 and an accompanying set of parameters.
The program has been configured for all versions of Windows, with Macintosh and Linux versions in the wings. Your computer runs the program and prompts you to return the results by e-mail. In return, you are able to watch your simulated planet on screen and see how other models are progressing.
"Everybody's model will be slightly different," said Dr Smith.
To date, 17,000 computers have signed up to the project. Results are expected within a year.
Danny Kingsley - ABC Science Online
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