The imperative: President Obama issued an executive order in 2009 mandating that action be taken to mitigate the impact of nutrient run-off on the Chesapeake Bay.
The question: Which of the existing best management practices had the most potential to achieve the objective?
The idea: The Computing for Sustainable Water Project, led by U.Va. environmental scientist Gerald Learmonth, which sought to evaluate the possible measures through a massive computer simulation.
The problem: How do you simulate and evaluate the effectiveness of so many possibilities over a huge watershed? Even using all of the computing resources currently available to him at U.Va., it would likely take 90 years to perform all of the calcuations.
The solution: Enter IBM’s World Community Grid, which harnesses the power of the computers of 600,000 volunteers in 80 countries.
The results: The World Community Grid began crunching the numbers on April 17. On Wednesday, exactly six months later, IBM announced that it had finished the calculations, having “processed over 24 million results which required nearly 4,200 years of computing power.”
Next steps: Now it is up to the grateful researchers (here’s their thank-you post on the World Community Grid blog) to pore over the mountains of data that were created and come up with their recommendations for real actions to save the Bay. “We will certainly share these results with you and the wider community as quickly as possible,” they pledged.
And once they’re done with that, they hope to apply their model to other watersheds around the world.