Researchers at the University of Cape Town hope to use people's spare computer time to produce a fine-grained climate model of the African continent. The aim is to better predict the effects of climate change on regions and improve planning decisions.
Africans face a greater risk of food shortage from climate change than other populations, according to the UK government's Stern Report.
"Declining crop yields, especially in Africa, could leave hundreds of millions without the ability to produce or purchase sufficient food," Stern said.
This prompted UCT's Climate Systems Analysis Group to hook up with IBM to exploit the World Community Grid (WCG). The WCG is a global virtual supercomputer of 315,000-plus members with more than 700,000 computers who donate their unused computer time to research.
A better way to predict localised effects of climate change will let resource managers take decisions that might alleviate adverse effects, said the organisers. "For example, they could begin planning an irrigation infrastructure or promoting appropriate drought-resistant crops."
The project, AfricanClimate@Home, will use the WCG to run simulations of small regions of Africa and then check them against actual observations. "Global models do not sufficiently take into account large lakes, mountains, or plains that can affect the local climate," said lead researcher Mark Tadross.
Once the models have proved themselves, researchers will run forecasts about how climate changes may affect that region. People can then use the data to take decisions on farming, water resources and economic development.
Stanley Litow, vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs and president of the IBM International Foundation, said the WCG has so far run seven projects, including FightAIDS@Home, which completed five years of HIV/AIDS research in just six months. More are in the pipeline.
People can register on www.worldcommunitygrid.org and install a free, small software program on to their computers. When not busy, the computers request data from WCG's server and do drug discovery computations using this data, and send the results back to the server, prompting it for a new piece of work. A screen saver will tell individuals when their computers are being used.