The effort, which relies on software downloaded to individual Windows 2000 and XP PCs, is similar to earlier distributed computing campaigns run by such groups as SETI, which for the last seven years has harnessed home computers to analyze signals from outer space for evidence of extraterrestrial life.
The software, in fact, was produced by the BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) Project, the same group which created the [email protected] software.
In the BBC's Climate Change Experiment, each PC will run a slightly different climate model using data from 1900 to 2000 -- a process that will take the average machine between three and four months -- after which it will proceed to a future climate change simulation only if the results are "reasonably like what exists today," said the FAQ on the experiment's Web site.
The software runs in the background and is given lower priority when other applications are being used; it runs faster when the PC is otherwise idle.
Volunteers can download the software and begin contributing their CPU cycles from here.