Scientists Need Public Help To Study Oregon Coast's 'The Blob,' Climate
Published 07/02/2015 at 4:34 AM PDT
(Oregon Coast) – Scientists from Corvallis are looking for some help from the public to study what's known as "the blob" off the U.S. West Coast - including the Oregon coast. It's a mass of unusually warm water that's been appearing around the Pacific Ocean and scientists believe this has much to do with droughts in west coast states.
Now, researchers are looking into new ways to study The Blob, its role in the climate and other climate-related issues, and they are going to the public.
It's a new study that involves running hundreds of variations of computer models to disentangle these causes. You can help out by letting them borrow some small amount of space on your home computer. You download a program from climateprediction.net, and you and thousands of citizen science volunteers then will let the researchers' programs run simulations during idle times on your personal computers.
The amount of data such a process creates is staggering and could require as many as three supercomputers to generate. This could solve that need.
The way it works is via what's called distributed computing, where you download software that then works on the data in the background while your computer is running. You download from the commonly used BOINC servers, which you may know from other similar internet volunteer programs, such as SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Life). In this case, the software runs climate models in the background to produce data.
Anyone interested in participating in the project – or just following the analysis in real-time – can go to http://www.climateprediction.net/weatherathome/western-us-drought.
This study is part of an umbrella project, climateprediction.net, originally launched by Oxford University in 2003, and joined by researchers at Oregon State University in 2010 to use the combined power of thousands of individual computers to run climate modeling simulations. This latest project is supported by Climate Central, a non-profit climate research and journalism organization.
“It’s a great way for the general public to help the scientific community investigate some of the climate variations we’re seeing,” said Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University. “It takes about a week to run a year-long unit of climate data and the program is set up to automatically feed the results back to the scientists.”
The work is of significant importance. The California drought has now lasted four years, and Oregon is in its second year. For both those years, the issue has been very low snowpack because of warm, mild winters. Almost every county in the state has had a governor-declared drought at some time during the two years.
Is “The Blob” the culprit in the West Coast drought? No one seems to know for sure whether this warm-water mass, which is hundreds of miles long, is to blame. The Blob, which is about 4 degrees (F) warmer than normal, has appeared during the last two late winters/early springs and lingered for months.
“Four degrees may not sound like much, but that kind of anomaly in the ocean is huge,” said Mote, who is a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “It has many implications, from physical processes in the ocean to biological impacts.”
There is evidence the anomaly is affecting the Oregon coast in unusual – and economically damaging – ways. Thousands of red crabs washed ashore in Southern California this month, which is being attributed to the blob of warm water.
The Washington and Oregon coasts are both currently in a state of shellfish lockdown: domoic acid accumulation has caused high toxins in razor clams, and thus a ban on harvesting them that will last through fall. Caused by toxic algal blooms, the spike in domoic acid is thought to be caused by some kind of physical stress to the plankton, though it is uncertain if it is related to The Blob.
Washington coast towns are complaining of a drop in visitors because of the clamming ban.
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