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The users of personal computers around the globe are being asked to help predict the world’s climate over the next 50 years.

The project, which is being launched today by British scientists, will harness the combined power of thousands of personal computers to generate the world’s most comprehensive forecast of 21st century climate.

The project will allow climate researchers to assess the probability of different patterns of climate change in the next half-century - a complex process that would otherwise require long and expensive simulations on supercomputers.

“There are far too many [simulations] for us to run them ourselves,” says Myles Allen of the University of Oxford. “Together, the participants’ results will give us an overall picture of how much human influence has contributed to recent climate change and of the possible changes in the future.”

Computer users who want to be part of the project can download a version of the UK Meteorological Office’s state-of-the-art climate model – which simulates several decades of the Earth’s climate – from the website

The computers will run the programme in the 'background', without affecting normal computing processes. The project follows a similar initiative in which more than a million volunteers scanned radio-telescope data on their personal computers for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

The system has already been tested by more than 1,500 people across the world, in locations that include the United States, Argentina, India and Zimbabwe. Participants will be able to view the climatic patterns being simulated on their computers, and are being encouraged to comment on the results in an online forum. At the end of each simulation, the results will be sent to researchers via the Internet.

The climate scientists behind the new project – a collaboration between three British universities, the UK Meteorological Office, the CCLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Tessella Support Services plc – say that it will significantly advance understanding of future climate.

“While many model studies in the past have made plausible predictions of climate change, it hasn’t been possible to quantify our confidence in these predictions,” says David Stainforth of the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics Department at Oxford University, and the experiment’s chief scientist. “We hope to be able to say, for the first time, what the climate probably will and, more importantly, probably won’t do in the future.”

The scientists hope to obtain initial results before the end of the year, and will submit their final results to the 4th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007.