You Can Help Investigate the Link between Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events

January 15, 2015 | 11:51 am
Roberto Mera
Former contributor

The power of citizen science has pushed the boundary on what climate science can tell us about our changing climate, including extreme events. If you have a computer, you can help us advance the science and make connections between climate change and extreme events. Please join me and thousands of others on this journey — become a citizen scientist today!


How it works

Did you know that your screen saver time on your computer can help us investigate climate change? Yes! All you need to do is download the program and it will run actual climate models on your computer. These are versions of the same models climate scientists use to investigate the role of heat-trapping emissions in future scenarios.

Now, instead of scientists needing giant supercomputers to crank out 50 model runs, we have turned the world into a supercomputer. And we get thousands of model runs to better describe the changing statistics of extreme events.

Running multiple model simulations is a powerful forecasting technique. It is based on the premise of chaos theory, where even a small change in the initial conditions of the model can have a drastic impact on final results. This is the same premise of time travel in pop culture, where even a small change in events in the past can change the course of history.

As your computer crunches the numbers you can watch the changing temperature over an entire year using the historical sea surface temperature and other input data for that year. The action happens on 2-5 second intervals (depending on processor), equaling 15 minute time steps in the model. Your computer can finish a simulation in less than 2 weeks!

Screen saver image of model running. This is the vorticity field, a measure of rotation in the atmosphere. Image by author

Screen saver image of model running. This is the vorticity field, a measure of rotation in the atmosphere. Image by author

What we study

What can results from your computer tell us? Specifically, we study changes in the frequency and severity of extreme events.

We have published several studies on heat waves in Russia in 2010, Texas/Oklahoma in 2011, and the U.S. drought of 2012. We recently presented results at a major scientific conference on the role of human-made climate change in the California drought. Currently, we are investigating the role of heat-trapping emissions on heat extremes in the western United States.

You can be a climate detective

When I first started as a Masters student, I came across and interesting piece in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society on the project. The article described how my own computer could run a climate model. This was very exciting! I was one of the first people to sign up back in 2004.

As fate would have it, my graduate school work was based on ensemble prediction, which involves running multiple model simulations, and is the premise of the citizen science project. This led me to where I am today, one of the researchers in the project.

I am now a climate detective, digging through evidence of humanity’s footprints on extreme events. I hope you will join me on this fascinating and important journey.