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The Internet Science

Distributed Computing and Climate Change 178

GraWil writes "The BBC are reporting the launch of climateprediction.net. The aim of the project is to investigate the approximations that have to be made in state-of-the-art climate models which frequently give rise to inconclusive predictions. More info on the current state of climate modeling is given by the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which highlights the need to quantify uncertainties of climate projections. So now, in addition to finding ET or curing cancer, your PC can now contribute to our understanding of climate change."
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Distributed Computing and Climate Change

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  • No Linux (Score:5, Interesting)

    by trolman ( 648780 ) * on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:02AM (#6951186) Journal
    No Linux version for "months." How about folding at home [stanford.edu] for those of you disappointed masses.
  • Heat (Score:5, Funny)

    by Clowning ( 465722 ) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:03AM (#6951190)
    The heat from running these distributed computing apps causes climate change inside my apartment.
    • Pipe the heat down to the street and start your own collection of homeless people. You do it enough, and property valeus will fall dramatically, and you can buy your building.

      1: Attract homeless people by using heat from your PC
      2: ?????
      3: Profit.

    • Re:Heat (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gl4ss ( 559668 )
      well, actually there's a huge amount of electricity wasted in normal heating elements used for heating.

      you know, imagine the power of a beowulf cluster that was used to heat some suburb with the waste heat(and for once, not a joke :).

      if you're going to use the electricity to heat you might as well do something useful with it in the process.

      • You could heat an apartment block with a few Sun 3's or Sun 4's, and if you could dig up a mainframe from the 70's you could do it with just one.

        Not that it would accomplish much besides the nostalgia factor.

      • first point electric heat is 100% effienect as far as using incoming power, Where it fails is in the distrubtion of that heat, since it tends to dry out the air.

        Then again with 3 P4's, 1 Athlon 550, and a Dec Alpha the heat in my apartment never comes on even when the temperature goes below zero.

        I agree if you are going to use electric heat it should be useful

      • I imagine for a single house (very common here in Norway), the most efficient place would be warming the hot water. If you want the water to be 70-75C to avoid bacteria and shit, you would need it 24/7. Also, it can't really get too hot (if it's 100C ok you have a problem, but then so does your machine). With a spare "dummy" heater coupled to a thermostat, it should be quite fault resistant too.

    • I'm been running the beta of this client for a couple of months, and I've compared the temperature of the CPU and MB when running it and when idle. I've seen no significant difference in either. I'm running it on an Athlon 2000+, I don't have the MB specs, but it's an Abit, IIRC (I'm on my notebook now). I leave my PC on frequently anyway for convienence, so comparing it to being off is not relevant. If I want to turn it off, I still turn it off. My feelings are the same when running Folding when I'm b
      • The CPU temperature doesn't tell you how much you're contributing to Global Warming or even to warming your house - it tells you how good your fans and heat sinks are. Look at the power consumption of your computer and monitor - almost all those watts become heat, except a few that become light from your monitor when it's on. Depending on your electric metering setup, figuring out how much power you're using is probably either hard or really hard, but if you can tell how much power you're using when Fold
  • Seems like a no-brainer to me.
    • And what is the answer???
    • And none of them supports anything but Windows. Too bad. When I get a new server it is most likely a 4x2.6GHz HT Xeon machine these days. Mostly they sit idle for a month or so before they are put into use, so I run 8 clients of Folding@home on each of them. I would have liked to support the cancer project, but I don't have a single windows machine. And yes, I know that is not normal. :)
      • Yeah, I have a couple of PC's doing essentially nothing as well (Neither one runs windows) that could help out a project, but same thing.
        I refuse to help out SETI tho, I think we should concentrate our efforts on finding intelligent life here on earth first.

    • The real suprise is the lack of choices. I run SETI@HOME and Cancer due to personal interrests, but there is so much more that grid computing could be applied to.

      I'm suprised corporations aren't getting involved in the grid arena. I'm as capitalistic as the next guy, but if donating my CPU time to AMD would speed up the release time on their next Opteron, that benefits me. The same applies to Toyota (Hybrid cars), Sony (Plasma TV's), etc...

      For example, someone with a history of alzheimers(sp

  • man, i did'nt know that distributed computing would cause climate change! :)
  • Other projects (Score:5, Informative)

    by Krunch ( 704330 ) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:09AM (#6951219) Homepage
    Here [aspenleaf.com] are some other ditributed computng projects.
  • by Krunch ( 704330 ) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:12AM (#6951228) Homepage
    > Your PC can now contribute to our understanding of climate change.

    And you can contribute to climate change itself too. Let's accelerate global warming by using 100% CPU at any time.
    • Re:Global warming (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Krunch ( 704330 )
      USA is said to be one of the country that contribute the more to global warming. Isn't it paradoxal that it's also the one that contribute the more to climate prediction ? http://cpdn.comlab.ox.ac.uk/map/index.html
    • Re:Global warming (Score:5, Informative)

      by caffeine_monkey ( 576033 ) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:52AM (#6951345)
      You're joking, I assume, but this is a point they've answered in their FAQ [climateprediction.net]:

      Won't all those computers left on for 24 hours a day have a detrimental impact on the climate system?

      Assume a computer running 24hrs/day requires, on average, 50W of power. If 100,000 computers join the climateprediction.net project, the project will require 5,000kW of power. There are 24 hours in a day, so each day the project will consume 120,000kW-hrs, or 432,000,000kJ of electrical energy.

      That's a big number, so let's try and put it in perspective by calculating how much energy is necessary to boil water for a cup of tea. Let's use a tiny bit of physics to do it. Assuming a specific heat of water of 4.19 kJ/(kg-K), 0.237kg/cup of water, a necessary temperature rise from 20 degrees Celsius to 100 degrees Celsius, and that only one cup of water is boiled for each cup of tea, then about 80kJ/cup of energy are necessary (assuming our kettle is 100% efficient). This means that running the climateprediction.net project for one day is equivalent to boiling water for 5,400,000 cups of tea!

      Is five and a half million cups of tea a lot? According to the Tea Council, some 37 million people in the United Kingdom drink, on average, 3.4 cups of tea per day. That's nearly 126 million cups of tea per day in the UK alone!!!

      Each day, about 23 times more energy will be spent boiling water for tea in the United Kingdom than would be used by the computers involved in the climateprediction.net project. More seriously, a rough calculation suggests that 100,000 computers running 24hrs/day for one year at a power consumption of 50W will contribute approximately 0.0001% of the total amount of CO2 generated in one year. This is not an insignificant amount, but seems (to us) a worthwhile investment to better understand the climate system.

      Assuming you are convinced this experiment needs to be done, there are basically two options: to buy a hangar-full of PCs and run it ourselves (not even an option right now, since the climate research community doesn't have the resources); or to recycle spare CPU out in the community, as we propose to do under the climateprediction.net experiment. Since the main environmental impact of a PC is in manufacture and disposal, not the power consumed in running it (never mind the air-conditioning costs and visual impact of that hangar on some innocent rural community), environmentalists will, we hope, approve of our strategy.

      • Thanks but the correct link is here [climateprediction.net]. Would mod you up if I could.
      • I normaly budget 200W for a PC /wo a monster GPU. If I had modern hardware, I'd be budgeting a lot more, prob'ly in the neighborhood of 400W. I use the highest PC maximum plus uncertainty for budgeting. This is not the same as average PC maximum, but still, 50W/PC is awfull low. Using my method, plus a little uncertainty would result in: 100,000 PC would add less then 0.001 % to the anual CO2 production.
        • True, but if your PC is on anyway, 50W would be about the difference between a CPU at idle and a CPU at max - assuming, that your CPU had an idle mode that actually used less power.

          Now if people were leaving their computers on at night, just to run this distributed program, you're right, 50 watts is probably too low.
        • you're thinking US-centric. british households use 240V power, so 50W over there is equivalent to 100W on 120V power.
          • Watts is Watts is Watts is Watts. P = I * E. A loaded 100W PS in the US will use twice the current as a loaded 100W PS in the UK. Don't they teach basic electronics any more?
      • From the FAQ they estimate the amount of energy it requires to keep your computer going. They underestimate.

        Even if the figures they mention are accurate, They do not include the amount of heat that is created by your CPU running 100% of the time. After running your CPU full throttle for 24 hours, put your hand behind the exhaust fan of you case and feel how warm the air is. Then realize how much harder your Air Conditioner is running, in order to keep your house cool.

        Also, most PC's were never designed t

        • I could say a few things about current cpu and computer design philosophies, but I think your statment is showing just what is going on here.

          You are correct that typical current CPU designs do tend to throttle up and consume more power when they are doing calculations, as opposed to earlier designs where the CPU always ran full out. Not being a chip designer, I can't give you all the details and technical terms, but many current designs have a "low power mode" that they move into while in idle mode where
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:19AM (#6951249)
    "In sum, a strategy must recognize what is possible. In climate research and modeling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear system, and therefore that the prediction of a specific future climate is not possible."

    - Working Group I - IPCC Report on Climate Change, 2001

    • by Tau Zero ( 75868 ) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:43AM (#6951318) Journal
      Right now the error bars on the climate projections are huge, something close to a 2.5:1 ratio between the best-case and worst-case projections. Even if the only accomplishment is to cut the error bar in half, that would be great progress.

      It's kind of like knowing that you have a 60% chance of rain tomorrow, and knowing that the rain will be as heavy showers and will blow through between 1:30 and 4:45 PM. The latter information is far more useful for planning your day than the former.

    • The unabridged paragraph from the report [grida.no]

      Explore more fully the probabilistic character of future climate states by developing multiple ensembles of model calculations. The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future exact climate states is not possible. Rather the focus must be upon the prediction of the probability distribution of the system's future possible states by the generation of ensembles of model solutions.

      And another quote introduc [grida.no]

  • by ThesQuid ( 86789 ) <[a987] [at] [mac.com]> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:19AM (#6951251) Journal
    Regardless of the data, a lot of people will only see this issue through the prism of their preconceived political agendas. I'm not against good data, far from it, but this is such a highly charged subject I'd like to know if they are going to be completely open about the data and the methods applied to it. That MIGHT help.
    • While I run seti@home because its something positive to believe in, I won't run these other programs for one simple reason PROFIT. Most of these other programs doing a lot of big time number crunching on things that are probably going to be patented(well except the global warming thing) and they want US to do their work for them. Will we share in the profits..highly doubtful
      • I see where your coming from, but personally I would still rather cure cancer even if some company makes millions from it than looking for signs of something in infinite space.
        • I would agree, but with the horrid state of managed health care in the US I wonder if id even have access to the cure were it available. The other point id like to make is that the PROFIT made in cancer is treatment! Would we even be aware of a cure if it existed? What would the pharmacutical co's profit if cancer was cured and they couldnt put you on a 100,000 dollar course of chemo?
      • There is someone on slashdot that has a link in its sig to a website that pays you for participating to their ditributed computing project. If he could show up may be he could tell you you are wrong.
      • You want a share of the profit? Buy yourself $1000 (roughly the cost of a descent modern day home pc) worth of stock in pharmacutical companies, and then donate your cpu cycles to the project. You'll be doing your part to increase the price of the stock, which will then become your share of the profits.
  • +5 Funny (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Jurgen wrote:

    What is the current status of the Linux-client, Will it be ready for the project start at sep. 12 ?


    No, unfortunately it won't. We hope it's going to be ready soon, though. We know there are lots of linux folks out there keen to participate and we won't let them down. But unfortunately they will have to be a bit more patient than Windows users. (We have quite a few linux enthusiasts among the meteorological community here in Britain, who remind me about the importance of a linux

  • It looked good until I saw the filesize of the app. 7.5MB. Now, a lot of home users have fast computers but only have slow internet connections. A huge chunk of the potential market has already been lost because of the large filesize. Unfortunate, but true.
    • A huge chunk of the potential market has already been lost because of the large filesize.

      Yadda, yadda...

      We've got half the users, and the most active, broadbanded already - and for the rest, it's something like a 20 minute download. Not to mention that it'll probably appear on covermount CD's soon.

      Lighten up, it's all pretty good :)

    • I don't know how big of a data packet the program needs and how often it needs to retreive one from the server, but if it's big enough that alone may be too much for the dial up users anyway.
    • Just out of wondering, but wouldn't this be a good use for Kazaa? Those computers with good internet connections might serve far better as communications hubs than as brute force processors.
  • by grid geek ( 532440 ) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:58AM (#6951365) Homepage

    I've been running climateprediction.net as a beta tester for the last couple of months. My experiences with it so far have been good, running it on a PIII-733 and a AMD 1GHz Duron laptop. No major crashes or faults.

    Compared to SETI each work unit takes forever. None of this one unit every 8 hours business, when they say it takes a committment they mean it, 90 days of 24/7 operation to finish one unit on the Duron, so I guess there is unlikely to be anyone hitting the 100,000 unit mark any time soon!

    A bit about the program - The work unit itself is broken down into 3 segments. There's an upload of results so far at the end of each one and a daily connection to confirm how much cpu time you've used in the last day and what checkpoint you've reached. If you don't do this it doesn't ask, it just checks if you have a connection and if not waits until you do. The program check points every couple of minuutes but can roll back a bit if you reboot (not a huge amount but its not as frequent as SETI).

    Overall I've had no problems with it apart from it crashing out of virtual memory once when I'd left it running without a network connection for 2 weeks.

    • Ouch ! 90 days ? Mmmm... I'm already running Grid.org Cancer Research on every available pc I can find, though that tends to timeout when I'm using Pentium I 200's or less. So I'm looking for something useful to run on slow (P200 or less) pc's. I guess this won't be it, since it would take (quick guestimate) about a year and a half for one work unit. Anybody have some good recommendations for slow (p75-p200) pc's ?
    • Try checking one of the big primes from http://mersenne.org/ - that'll take you a year or something like that on a top end machine :)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    please be aware that this is a commercial project

    http://www.climateprediction.net/misc/sponsors.php [climateprediction.net]

    all of those companies SELL services based on this data, so iam sure they would very much like the public to do their work while they sit back and reap all this lovely free data, even the UK Goverments Met Office isn't free and if you would like weather data (like what its like in your area) you have to pay for it (unlike the USA which offers access to its data streams/imaging for free)

    so go ahead if yo
  • Only 35 comments, and already the registration system is Slashdotted. Their loss. Not mine.
  • My take on all this is that I will contribute my CPU time to a project that is not receiving a great deal of funding and that will not make one large corporation rich. I would like to see cancer defeated as much as the next person, but there is plenty of money and research in that field.

    I was just wondering if you can run two of these applications side-by-side? I briefly tried it out with SETI & Folding, and it seems that one runs at the expense of the other. Anyone try this out?
  • by Frodo420024 ( 557006 ) <henrik@fangorn . d k> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @10:36AM (#6951507) Homepage Journal
    As others have noted, getting the client to accept the registration seems buggy. I've tried a dozen times, and my registration is now known to the server - but the client refuses to accept it, thus I cannot start calculating.

    Either a bug in the registration process, or /. has hit hard again...

    • I think this was just a pure Slashdot effect. The registration computer was overloaded with all of the folks from here that suddenly just joined.

      I just got on and retried my registration, and it seems to be working just fine now.
  • and they still can't tell me if it's going to rain today....
  • I thought everyone already just absolutely knew (because Al Gore said so) that big time global warming was a fact and we have to do something NOW, except those mean nasty Republicans who are bought and paid for by the oil companies.
  • I submitted this a day earlier:

    • 2003-09-12 08:31:05 Help out with long-term climate prediction (articles,science) (rejected)

    and was baffled as to why it was rejected.

    I suppose now it will be duped?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I predict the chance of inconclusive predictions today is 60%
  • Has anyone come up with a decent client program for any of these projects? I've been running distributed.net's RC5 client for years. Of all the projects I've tried, it's the only good program I've come across. It actually runs as a service with 0 priority, so it really does use unused cycles, unlike the screensavers which only work when you're away from your PC (and if you use a screensaver). Have the other programs gotten better, or are they the same as when I looked at them way back?
  • I care very much about climate change, but is this particular experiment worthwhile?

    Is it well designed? Will the data be useful? Are the experimenters competent to make good use of the data?

    More importantly, will this data be publicly available to other scientists, or am I donating to their private endeavor?

    No offense to the experimenters -- it sounds like a great idea, but just because someone has a great idea and sets up a website doesn't mean they know what they're doing. I don't know anything abo
  • by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @11:45AM (#6951765) Homepage
    See, all those jokes about overclocked Athlons contributing to global warming are now coming true.
  • "Parallel and Distributed Programming Using C++ provides an up-close look at how to build software that can take advantage of multiprocessor computers. Simple approaches for programming parallel virtual machines are presented, and the basics of cluster application development are explained. Through an easy-to-understand overview of multithreaded programming, this book also shows you how to write software components that work together over a network to solve problems and do work." - Amazon [amazon.com]

    Your Friendly N

  • Didn't Wolfram conclude this was impossible in his big fat tome?
  • LOL (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sw155kn1f3 ( 600118 )
    Did someone imagine a distributed cluster all around the planet heating atmosphere to the point no one lives on the earth anymore?
    What do you need to cool it? Oceans?
  • by BuilderBob ( 661749 ) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @03:21PM (#6952785)

    Rumours on the forum are that it can be run under WineX or some such things, as well, of course, as VMWare.

    There is no problem with running the model on Linux though, the model itself will run under any operating system with enough power, it was originally written for a Cray and is still used at the Met Office on Cray-like machines (specifically a a T3E, I think).

    The model will (and does) currently run on Linux, quite happily, the problem with running CP.net on Linux is that the program used to control the model is currently windows only, as is the visualisation software.

    As for running the model without the control program, there are two problems, the first is that the interface is....not good. It uses Fortran namelists for most of the non-compiled variables and input files with specifications that were dreamt up by Satan on LSD (It's always a good sign when the program itself doesn't follow the file specifications). The CP.net team have created a "virtual grad-student" (their words) which will look after your model and redo any calculations it needs, as well as deciding when to report back to CP.net and take a coffee break. Having sat waiting for the model to run/crash I wish I had a toy like that, even if I did have to make the coffee.

    The second problem is that the model is balanced on a knife edge. There is a continuous battle between realistic physics (more complicated functions, shorter integration timesteps, slower model) and getting some work done (longer timesteps, simple physics, etc.). A part of this project will be to find out which parameters can be changed in such a way as to make the model fall over and become an ice planet or any of the other non physical but numerically feasible solutions.

    It will take a long time to run each model, as the website says, but this is pretty much the simplest model which would produce a useful result, even on a 2.6Ghz Athlon you won't get more than about a day every six minutes (3 minutes for the atmosphere, 3 minutes for the ocean) for the full model, 50 years is 360*6*50 = 108000 minutes (75 days) on 24/7, luckily (?) a good portion of the models will fail before then, some will take longer as the results are checked if they look extreme. The real physical differences produced will only be a subset of the results from the experiment.

    The model can go faster, e.g. a variation has been developed by the MetOffice where the Ocean model can runs upto 10 times faster than in the CP model, the main reason for this speed up? Iceland was deleted from the map :) (in terms of size, I think Ireland and the UK are next)

    The data which will result in this project will hopefully be able to give a quantitative prediction of how bad things might get if we (say) double the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it can tell us (=scientists) how likely it is that New York will be flooded or El Nino will shutdown. Whether or not the data will be 'open' is anybody's guess. Checking the sponsers, at least one of them is an insurance company that insures based on weather forecasts (good crop weather, flooding, etc.), I have little doubt about the commercial value of the data (c.f Cancer research programs).

    As for the people who want access to the model source (and the source for the visualisation programs I guess). Are you completely out of your mind :) It's half a million lines of Fortran which has been written by many many people over about 10 years. Having access to the source in this case would benefit nobody. It only does 1 thing, model the climate. The atmosphere model has about 50 different options for the physics schemes, 10 different dynamical schemes and noise filtering options, all of which need to be set up properly to have any chance of working. The 'simple' ocean model has another load of options, then the 'complex' ocean model has another load of options, then there are multiple way to couple the atmosphere and ocean together. (Also, *shock horror*, it has bugs in it.)

    • How I pine for an Free clone of IDL, hopefully with less insane memory overhead

      Jeez, don't we all, well those of us who have used it. I used to do satellite oceanography at uni, but have since moved to another institution, and no longer have access to IDL, so no more work on this unfortunately.
      IDL was a memory hog, and seemed to have either no or completely infantile memory mangagement. I would love an IDL clone.
      BuilderBob, what do you do that you got to feel the pain of IDL?

You should never bet against anything in science at odds of more than about 10^12 to 1. -- Ernest Rutherford