"We grow plants virtually, mimicking nature to try to get the fundamental mechanism of how a community changes in time and space, by comparing our computer simulation with a special series of live experiments done in France," Garbey said. "Once the model works, we manipulate the plant growth in our computers simulating a series of 'bad' scenarios, such as lack of water and nutrients, intensive grazing or mowing and adding virtual pollution. Our computer simulations dramatically increase our capability to test various scenarios or ideas."
Using this method, the researchers would ultimately be able to design the ideal prairies by combining the right species that would offer a variety of ecological benefits. Among these benefits are creating prairies able to clean up nitrate pollution so that it does not go back into the water system, providing stability where vulnerable species can coexist and preventing erosion by repairing the ground.
In addition to the various field experiments, a crucial element in this research is the thousands of volunteers around the world who donate time and space on their computers. To carry out these time- and space-intensive computer simulations efficiently, Garbey and his collaborators relied on their virtual prairie program's more than 10,000 volunteers in 90 countries. This is an arrangement where people volunteer to provide computing resources on their personal PCs for information processing, problem solving and storage of the researchers' work. The virtual prairie project extensively uses the open-source software computing platform of David Anderson, a professor in the University of California, Berkeley's space sciences laboratory and adjunct professor in the computer science department at UH.
Beyond the help that it provides Garbey's project, benefits of volunteer computing
|Contact: Lisa Merkl|
University of Houston