In the first ever guest post on greenhughes.com my friend and colleague Dr Elpida Makriyannis explores the role of open source and openness in climate change science. Elpida is a Research strategist on social and environmental change and recently attended the COP15 summit in Copenhagen.
While leaders from more than 190 countries gathered at Bella Centre for COP15, the science behind climate change was being questioned after the publication of hacked or leaked emails. “Climategate” is a wake-up call for many different reasons. It presents a unique opportunity to discuss scientific practices in the 21st Century. It also strengthens the argument that scientists should show their workings. Open practices in science, secure public trust and help create an open, participatory, sharing society of educated and active citizens. From a 400 TB Linux-based database with information about changes in the world’s climate, to an open technology prototype service for forest monitoring, reporting and verification, to open source land surface climate station records and code and many others, scientific institutions and researchers worldwide are starting to embrace the open science paradigm.
Climate change is such a systemic problem that humanity can't afford hiding scientific methodologies and results. Many scientists still refuse to show their workings. Why? Scientists depend on funding and journal publications to secure the sustainability of their research projects. They avoid showing their research findings because they know that a series of successful journal publications of original scientific work and conference presentations will secure them more funding. It is also true, that in some cases, members of the academic community display an elitist behaviour refusing to share their scientific practices, not only with the general public but also with their peers and junior researchers. With the emergence of the internet and Web 2.0 technologies this dynamic is changing. The internet has become the medium through which anyone has the opportunity to voice their opinion on scientific results, publicly deliberating about the findings with scientists and others and proposing their own ideas for scientific practices and processes. More and more scientists and research institutions start to understand that an open science paradigm presents huge benefits for effective policy-making, connecting to peers that can further scientific enquiry and building trust with the general public.
At the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, an earth system model was developed, called the Millennium Simulations, to allow scientists to model past, present and future change in the world's climate. It creates models of the earth's climate, looking at the influence of human and natural activity to project future climatic changes. Incorporating several sub-models looking at land, ocean and atmosphere, it is the first model to use an interactive carbon cycle. The project is a paradigm for open access and open science worldwide due to the open manner in which scientists from all over the world contribute and share information and their analysis of the results. The most fascinating aspect of this project is that the data from the Millennium Simulations is stored and accessed via the World Data Centre for Climate (WDCC), an international archive and data distribution centre for climate research data providing the entire scientific community worldwide with access to vast amounts of high-quality climate data. This 400 Terabytes database is based on Unix / Linux and it is the largest Linux-based database in the world, making it an incredibly important resource for scientists working on climate modelling and trying to predict potential future climate changes and their effects. Why is this so important? Firstly, because free open source software is at the heart of this colossal achievement and secondly, it is the results of these tests that will inform the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the body that influences and assists in the decision-making process of climate change policies on the highest levels of government.
At COP15, Google demonstrated an open-source technology prototype service that enables online, global-scale observation and measurement of changes in the Earth’s forests. The technology uses satellite imagery to track deforestation over a period of time and measure the level of forest loss. Google teamed up with Greg Asner of Carnegie Institution for Science and Carlos Souza of Imazon for this project which aims to offer scientists and affected nations access to a huge amount of the earth's raw satellite imagery data - according to Google…"Petabytes of present and future data" – and a tool for forest monitoring, reporting and verification
The Met Office Hadley Centre, is also another example of opening up scientific practices and processes. The Hadley Centre in collaboration with the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia have made freely available and without restrictions on re-use, the database and programming codes of a network of individual land stations that have been designated by the World Meteorological Organisation for use in climate monitoring, showing monthly average temperature values for over 1,500 land stations. The code from the two Perl programs provided, is released under an open source license and is given to enable users to make gridded fields and calculate a global average annual temperature anomaly time series from the station data provided here.
“Climategate” marked the emergence of an open science movement that is inclusive, participatory, builds trust and is also opening our mind to new ways of doing science.