Running computer simulations to try to predict future problems and find solutions to environmental issues is not a new tactic, but due to the long computing times necessary in some calculations, they can take a very long time. In contrast, a new project, called Computing for Sustainable Water, will use the computers of some 600,000 individuals and organizations worldwide (two million computers in all) to calculate the effects of the 17 million people who live and work in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, compressing 20 years of processing time into a single year.
The University of Virginia built a mathematical model to simulate the actions of the 17.4 million people living near America's largest estuary, the 64,000 square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed. The model will be used to predict both the monthly and the cumulative effects of human activity in the region - all agriculture, transportation, energy, and industry-related decisions - over the next 20 years. The data gathered from this project could be used to inform policies and decision-making about other major waterways across the globe.
"What we learn from this project also could easily be extended to other regions of the world facing similar stresses on water quality. We are looking at whether or not various best management practices currently in use by governments will be effective in the long run for reducing the load of nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment that is reaching the Chesapeake Bay from municipalities and agricultural areas and causing a decline in the health of the Bay. We hope that what we learn can not only help restore the health of the Bay, but also sustain it for future generations." - Gerard Learmonth, University of Virginia systems and information engineering professor
Individuals and organizations can help with this project by downloading a free app from World Community Grid, which enables their computers to perform calculations for Computing for Sustainable Water when their systems are idle, even between keystrokes!
The World Community Grid is a philanthropic initiative of IBM, which operates on the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) software to provide computational power to scientists who may not be able to afford high speed computing for their research. According to IBM, if the World Community Grid was a physical supercomputer, it would be one of the world's 15 fastest machines.