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The world could be as much as 11°C hotter inside 50 years, according to the first results from climateprediction.net, an experimental distributed computing network set up to simulate climate change.

The researchers ran more than 50,000 simulations of the potential future climate, based on a doubling of pre-industrial carbon dioxide levels. What they found has surprised them. David Stainforth, from Oxford University, explains that carbon dioxide levels could have a much greater impact on global temperature than previously thought.

The project was designed to find out the possible range of temperature change in the 21st century. At the lower end of the scale, we are looking at over a 2°C increase in temperatures across the planet. At the upper end, things are much more serious, and even if carbon dioxide levels stay as they are now, we could be in for some very noticeable changes in climate.

Project co-ordinator, Dr David Frame, noted that the results have profound implications. "If the real world response were anywhere near the upper end of our range, even today's levels of greenhouse gases could already be dangerously high," he said.

The researchers said that more work is needed to "explore the uncertainties to rule out the possibilities of an extreme temperature rise", according to Wired Magazine.

The project is the largest climate simulation ever and is only possible because of donated spare computer processing power, like the SETI@Home project on which it is based. The network spans 150 countries, and involves around 90,000 computers; participants have simulated over four million model years, and donated over 8,000 years of computing time.

The research is ongoing, so if you want to participate, point your browser here. ®

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