Community Grid Computing Project Studies World Water Future

Chesapeake Bay BridgeComputing for Sustainable Water — a project designed to simulate and predict how human influences might affect the Chesapeake Bay watershed during the next two decades — was launched Thursday by World Community Grid and the University of Virginia.

The project will use computing power contributed by 600,000 World Community Grid volunteers in 80 countries to complete 1.3 million simulation experiments in a single year, according to IBM, which founded the World Community Grid.

Although what happens to water as a result of natural changes is well understood, how humans influence those changes is less known. This might include factors that result from policy decisions or development.

In order to more accurately model the outcomes and consequences of such human influences, a wide variety of possible cause-and-effect scenarios need to be simulated. The project’s organizers say the computing time for this volume and complexity of tasks would require about 90 years.

With an application downloaded from World Community Grid, the idle time of volunteers’ personal computers and other non-mobile computing devices can be used to power computer simulations. The University of Virginia built a mathematical model that simulates the varied actions of 17.4 million people living in the 64,000 square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed for the project to predict the monthly and cumulative effects of agriculture, transportation, energy, and industry-related decisions made over the course of 20 years. The research will help improve the long-term health of the body of water.

Gerard Learmonth, a University of Virginia professor who helped create the Computing for Sustainable Water project, said:

After we complete a year of calculations, we expect to arrive at findings that could inform policy and stimulate individual behavior change in the Chesapeake Bay region and along its watershed. 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.

To process complex data such as this typically requires fast, powerful computing resources, which are also expensive. World Community Grid was founded by IBM in 2004 to provide those scientists who might not be able to afford the high-speed computing for research, with resources to complete their work. The organization has hosted 20 different research projects to date, including research at Tsinghua University in China, designed to find inexpensive, less complex water treatment technologies as well as research to cure water-borne diseases, and discover renewable energy materials.

“This is a relatively simple solution that’s fast, runs automatically and requires no time or effort from its volunteers. Best of all, it’s a great starting point for people to become engaged and involved in the stewardship of our planet,” Philippe Cousteau, grandson of Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau and co-founder of Azure Worldwide, a strategic environmental design, development and marketing company, wrote on a guest post on the IBM Citizen Blog.

“It’s innovative partnerships and projects like these that give me the most hope for the future. My grandfather and father had a simple vision of creating a world where every child can breathe fresh air, drink clean water and walk on green grass under a blue sky,” Cousteau wrote.

Images by JoshuaDavisPhotography (Joshua Davis), used under its Creative Commons license .