Australia — An international team of climate scientists is looking to recruit 10,000 members of the public to help find out the exact role greenhouse gases played in Australias record temperatures last year.
The Weather@home ANZ project will use peoples home computers to run a series of simulations based on the weather experienced in 2013, which has been confirmed as Australias hottest year on record.
Two huge data ensembles will be run during the project one representing the actual climatic events in 2013 and another of possible weather during that year, which will replicate what would have happened if the atmosphere had not been altered by the human release of heat-trapping emissions.
Eight different models of this alternate climate reality will be run to ascertain the various scenarios that would have unfolded if billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases had not been pumped into the atmosphere.
The citizen science project, the first of its kind in Australia, is a collaboration between the University of Melbourne, the University of Oxford and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) in New Zealand.
People who sign up to the project will run one of the simulations on their home computer, with a weeks continuous data crunching equating to one year of climate simulation. The program software will run in the background of these computers, allowing them to be used for other things.
David Karoly, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne, told Guardian Australia the use of thousands of home computers would allow researchers to complete this climate work in a faster and more efficient way.
We wouldnt have the power to do these repeated simulations, whereas in two weeks this project will be able to get 10,000 years of climate model simulation, he said. That would normally take a lot, lot longer.
These simulations could be done anywhere in the world, but we really want Australians to get involved. They will be contributing to us having a better understanding of the role of climate change upon extreme weather events.
The data will be automatically sent to the University of Tasmania, which will store the information in order for scientists to analyse it.
The role of climate change in driving last years record temperature, as well as extreme weather, has proved contentious. Last year, Tony Abbott said the UNs climate chief, Christiana Figueres, was talking out of her hat to suggest a link between global warming and bushfires, and the prime minister has repeatedly declined to mention climate change in relation to drought and heatwaves.
The CSIRO has pointed to a clear link between rising temperatures and bushfires and drought conditions, with its recent State of the Climate report showing a lengthening of the fire season and a gradual decline in rainfall since the 1970s.
The data we will produce could be used as a risk assessment with a high degree of confidence, said Karoly. We will be able to see if climate change has doubled the chances of a particular event, for example, or whether we can say with greater than 90% confidence that a weather event is more likely because of climate change.
So that means that when we have bushfires to the west of Sydney, as we did in October last year, we can see whether the prime minister was right or the climatologists were right.
The University of Oxford has already begun a similar project analysing the UK winter that will run in tandem with the Australian study. It is expected that preliminary results from the initiative will be available within two months.