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Computer Program Eases Climate Change Research

By Don Comis
September 29, 2008

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researchers and colleagues have developed a computer program that allows them to automatically recreate or simulate the environment of remote locations throughout the world inside plant growth chambers.

The program, called WeatherEze, which includes an online global map, was developed by Kurt Spokas, a soil scientist at the ARS Soil and Water Management Research Unit in St. Paul, Minn., and Frank Forcella, an agronomist at the ARS North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory in Morris, Minn., in cooperation with Percival Scientific, Inc., of Perry, Iowa.

ARS studies plant growth in chambers for a variety of research purposes, including mimicking environmental conditions that may result from global climate change. ARS has such chambers in a number of research locations, including Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina and Ohio.

The commercially available WeatherEze program runs Percival-controlled environment chambers and incubators from any computer equipped with Microsoft Windows.

WeatherEze connects the chambers to hourly reports from airport weather stations throughout the world via METAR weather data.

The ARS scientists developed computerized statistical models to use the weather and latitude and longitude data to estimate weather variables such as sunlight amount and quality, and automatically recreate those conditions in the chambers.

Without WeatherEze, climate change and other researchers who want to recreate daily climates of various regions of the world have to manually adjust the chambers daily to match weather reports from those regions. And they typically would not have time to estimate anything far from obvious from the data, such as daily lighting conditions. WeatherEze accomplishes this in real- time.

The software can also recreate and continually control past climate scenarios for global warming studies, using the last 30 years of weather data. WeatherEze can also control carbon dioxide levels (provided this feature is available in the growth chamber) and can simulate almost any set of environmental conditions around the globe.

The ARS scientists worked with Percival through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement.

ARS is a scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.