Can Open Source Boost Climate Science Research?

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 04, 2011

With everyone searching for the best ways to green the planet and debating the legitimacy of global warming, it's likely that many answers will come to light only through solid research. In much the same way that some wonder if open source will boost the advancement of clean technology, members of the climate science community are pondering whether the same approach would help further our understanding of how climate change affects our planet.

Environmental planner Brendan Barrett and Dr. Sulayman K. Sowe, who holds degrees in computer science and science education, penned an essay recently discussing the theoretical approach of applying an open source approach to the study of global climate change. They believe that by open sharing data and research results, the scientific community can gain a quicker and more thorough understanding of global issues that affect our planet.

The authors acknowledge there is a trend toward openness within the climate science community already. NASA, as they point out, makes its global temperature measurement data available, which scientists are welcome to use for their own research.

Barrett and Sowe say an open source approach toward climate research "may be viewed by many as a political non-starter because it would require a major overhaul of the status quo of global climate science as channeled through the United Nations mandated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)." As such, they suggest baby steps toward an open philosophy.

"[O]ur proposal would be for incremental change," they write. "Something that is also very difficult to achieve. The goal would be to explore the potential to radically further open climate science. For example, initially climate science organizations or researchers could adopt open licenses for their work. Following that, they could re-examine their modes of collaboration and aim towards new forms of meritocracy. Next, climate scientists could look at the way knowledge in their field is generated and shared (through open peer review processes)."

Barrett and Sowe's essay is a fascinating and extremely in-depth look at how open source methodologies could advance climate science in ways the current data-sharing system cannot. It's a great read and definitely food for thought for anyone interested in how climate change impacts our planet.

Image: NASA