Archive for the ‘Climate & Weather’ Category

When disaster strikes, strike back with citizen science!

By June 28th, 2015 at 3:41 am | Comment

Photo: USGS

Photo: USGS

Natural disasters can be devastating and terrifying but in some cases, there are things we can do to take control.

Here are a selection of citizen science projects designed to inform rescue efforts and related research.

Read the rest of this entry »

Did you know ‘storm spotters’ in your community help keep you safe during inclement weather?

By June 26th, 2015 at 9:44 am | Comment 1

Civic minded citizen scientists in your community help meteorologists and the National Weather Service stay abreast of inclement weather with on-the-ground data.

Earlier this week, the Midwest and Northeast were slammed with tornados and thunderstorms that grounded planes and held up trains. Thousands of people along the Northeast corridor lost power as a result.

During such hazardous weather, we rely on the knowledge, skill and expertise of meteorologists and designated emergency personnel to keep us safe and in the know. They in turn rely on data supplied by not just satellites and doppler radars but also – a network of citizen scientists.

But wait. With all our sophisticated technology, what could a few volunteers possibly contribute? Read the rest of this entry »

iSeeChange: documenting the weather around us

By May 9th, 2015 at 9:53 am | Comment

April in Redlands Mesa. Source: iSeeChange

April in Redlands Mesa. Source: iSeeChange

From shoveling the third heavy snowfall of winter to spotting the first crocus of spring, each day without fail we experience our environment. Meaning each of us is a potential wealth of information about our local environment. Information that if gathered could inform climate scientists about the local effects and potential indicators of climate change. This is the premise of iSeeChange, a crowdsourced journal of community submitted local weather and environment observations.

The variability of weather and environmental conditions is an inherent challenge in climate science. Is the current drought in California a result of climate change or just an extreme version of the state’s periodic droughts? Was the devastation of Hurricane Sandy a fluke event or foreshadowing of a future trend?

To address this variability, climate scientists collect and average data across large spans of time and space. But managing data this way poses its own issues. “Climate science has a difficult time drilling down and being relevant to everyday people making every day decisions,” says Julia Kumari Drapkin creator of iSeeChange. “We designed iSeeChange to bridge the gap between the big data that the scientists collect and the local experiences of individuals and communities. The project allows people to reach their hands up and meet the big data half way overcoming this problem of scale.”

Listen to farmers discuss the iSeeChange project. Source: iSeeChange.

Listen to farmers discuss the iSeeChange project. Source: iSeeChange.

Since its creation in 2012, iSeeChange has grown from a local weather almanac in Colorado to a nationwide environmental reporting network. Anyone can become a member and submit observations on the website. Viewers can sort through the data by date or season, refining their search through metrics such as humidity, precipitation or cloud cover. Ideally members submit data on a weekly basis but in reality participation can range from a single backyard photo to religiously gathered measurements. One iSeeChange member uploaded observations made in a journal kept by a Dust Bowl era fruit farmer, noted Julia.

But beyond a data repository, the purpose of the project is to encourage conversation between scientists, journalists and individuals. “We want people to be curious, ask questions about what they see and experience. Then scientists and journalists in our network try to answer those questions,” says Drapkin. “The posts help scientists and journalist as well. Member submissions call attention to interesting or unusual events, which get picked up by journalists, transforming a few individual’s observations into a larger story.”

And these stories will become informative climate data for the future. Already researchers are expressing interest in the data. The project’s growth and collaborations with scientific partners at NASA, UC Berkeley and Yale is setting the stage for a larger impact. Due out in summer, iSeeChange co-developed an app with NASA that will ping community members to send in local observations whenever satellites are overhead. “The app will allow for real time comparisons between what the satellite sees and what is happening on a local level,” explains Drapkin. “We will learn what the impacts are and why it matters. We will be able to take the quantitative data and match it to the qualitative data and see how they compare over time.”

Ultimately iSeeChange is about empowering individuals and communities to document and investigate their environment. “People are experts of their own backyards. The granular changes they observe add up to bigger picture changes,” says Drapkin. “Already, these community observations have given scientists and journalist new insights and heads up on environmental trends.”

iSeeChange_logo  If you collect data about your local environment, want to share an interesting change you have notice or have a question you, visit iSeeChange and become part of a large scale effort to document your environment. To learn more about iSeeChange view their trailer.

Is Climate Change Causing the Seasons to Change? Citizen Scientists in the UK Help Find Out with Nature’s Calendar

By March 31st, 2015 at 5:00 am | Comment

A Seven spot ladybird (Image Credit: Richard Bekker)

A Seven spot ladybird (Image Credit: Richard Bekker)

Interested in more spring themed citizen science projects? Check out the ones the SciStarter team has handpicked for you here! Or use SciStarter’s project finder to find one that piques your curiosity!


In 1998 Tim Sparks, a research biologist at Britain’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Cambridge started a pilot project designed to record the first blush of spring. Sparks saw the importance of continuous phenology records—a record of when plants start to bud and flower, and wanted to revive a phenology network in the UK. Shortly thereafter The Woodland Trust (the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity) joined forces with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to promote the scheme to a wider audience, which is how the citizen science project Nature’s Calendar was born. Read the rest of this entry »

“What’s in store for citizen scientists this spring,” WHYY’s The Pulse

By March 20th, 2015 at 1:24 pm | Comment

Credit: Sarah Newman

Credit: Sarah Newman

As part of SciStarter’s regular radio series with WHYY’s The Pulse, we highlight new developments in citizen science and a few projects ripe for spring!

As the weather starts warming up and we all begin shedding our thick, winter coats, a crop of new citizen science projects are enticing us to get outdoors in the name of science.

Darlene Cavalier, founder of the citizen science website SciStarter and regular Pulse contributor, says a top project this spring involves paying attention to phenology, or the life cycle changes of plants and animals.

“This might be changes in the nesting habits of birds, certainly in the leafing cycle of plants near you and, specifically, looking at the timing that your lilacs bloom and when they die,” says Cavalier.

All of that information is connected in the sense that birds tend to time their nesting habits to when insects will likely be around to feed their baby birds. And those insects are dependent on certain plants to be around to survive.

Cavalier says the information that’s collected through this phenology project will eventually help inform climate assessment acts in the U.S.

As part of the Philadelphia Science Festival in April, the SciStarter crew will be at the Schuylkill Nature Center in Roxborough to get people involved in the Zombee Watch project.

“We have zombie flies that actually infect honeybees and we’ll tell you how to look for that,” says Cavalier. “It’s pretty disgusting and it’s also eerily attractive for some reason.”

But Cavalier says not all scientific research has to happen outdoors.

Read the rest of this post and listen to the radio segment.