Climate scientists should not write their own software, says researcherUnited Kingdom
Danny Bradbury for BusinessGreen, part of the Guardian Environment Network
Computer scientist urges software developers to help climate scientists produce better modelling tools. From BusinessGreen, part of the Guardian Environment Network
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A study by a computer scientist at the University of Toronto suggests that the computer models used to predict climate change may be undermined due to a lack of programming expertise.
Steve Easterbrook at the University's Department of Computer Science, has had his paper, Climate Change: A Grand Software Challenge, accepted by the 2010 FSE/SDP Workshop on the Future of Software Engineering Research. In the paper, he suggests that because many climate prediction software modelling tools are built by climate scientists rather than software engineers some of the resulting software has room for improvement.
Climate scientists commonly use so-called Global Circulation Models (GCMs) that simulate the atmosphere, oceans, cryosphere and biosphere at a global scale, Easterbrook said. Underpinning them are data analysis tools designed to crunch the underlying numbers.
"Most of this software is built by the climate scientists themselves, who have little or no training in software engineering," said Easterbrook in his paper. "As a result the quality of this software varies tremendously: The GCMs tend to be exceptionally well engineered, while some data processing tools are barely even tested."
Easterbrook called for climate scientists to use applications written by experts in software design that would enable cross-disciplinary work to address climate change questions. These analysis tools would be proven capable of processing "earth models", he said.
Secondly, Easterbrook argued that information sharing systems, such as games, reputation analysis software, and crowdsourcing tools could help to disseminate information on climate change efficiently and responsibly.
Finally, he said that energy efficient green IT systems are needed to reduce power consumption in all areas where climate modelling software is used.
"A massive mobilisation of talent will be needed. Other disciplines are already developing disciplinary responses to this challenge," Easterbrook concluded. "It is time for the software community to step up to the plate."
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