So you want to be a Scientist? – by Octavia

And you’re so interested in climate change, you read all the (very long) arguments about it in your nearest freethinking science forum, but the thought of trying to break into doing that sort of science yourself gives you the cold shivers?

(The graphs do look pretty complicated sometimes.)

Well, today’s your lucky day, because Nexus is about to tell you how you can take part in modelling climate stuff, and we’re going to do it without PowerPoint (sorry, Mr. Gore). Our budget doesn’t run to forklifts, you see. All you need is an internet connection, and a link to…

ClimatePrediction is the largest weather forecasting experiment around at the moment. It uses your computer to help run climate models – complicated representations of the Earth’s climate system. ClimatePrediction uses GCM models (otherwise known as General Circulation or Global Climate models) – in effect, they’re trying to represent every single factor involved in the general climate system. Naturally, the more factors you try to include in your climate model, the more complicated it gets. GCMs try to simulate as many things as they can, including radiation, air movement, and changes in vegetation cover and ice sheet size. Because GCMs take into account so many factors, they can often give better representations than the simpler models. A good overall introduction to climate modelling can be seen at ClimatePrediction’s site, here.

However, this all takes a lot of computing power.  Because there are so many contributing factors, and because the range within each factor is so large, ClimatePrediction is running hundreds of thousands of slightly different models in order to represent the entire possible range of results. Because the amount of computing power needed to do this is so huge – beyond the available resources of supercomputers, according to ClimatePrediction – it’s more efficient to get distributed computing systems involved.

And that’s where you come in.

To get involved, you need to download BOINC. You can trundle along on your own, or join or start a team to inject some competition into your forecasting. The work units you get are a bit bigger than similar projects like SETI@home, but you get credit as you go along. They’re big because each model spans anywhere from between 45-200 model years, depending on the simulation you get. The model will run in the background any time your computer is on, and you can see the weather patterns change as it works.

ClimatePrediction works with schools and runs a course with the UK’s Open University, as well as fulfilling its primary aim of modelling complex long-term simulations, as the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change suggested as a priority work in their 2001 report. If previous “So You Want To Be A Scientist?” suggestions haven’t done it for you, consider giving this one a go.

Al Gore will thank you for it.


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