Archive for the ‘Ecology & Environment’ Category
Editors Note: This is a guest post by Gwen Ottinger, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Drexel University. She has done extensive research on community-based air monitoring and community-industry relations around oil refineries. She is author of Refining Expertise: How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges (NYU Press 2013).
A study released last week in the journal Environmental Health breaks new ground in our understanding of the environmental effects of fracking—and shows the power that citizen science can have in advancing scientific research and promoting political action.
Unconventional oil and gas (UOG) production, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), can affect water and air quality. Researchers, including citizen scientists, have studied its impacts on water extensively. But we don’t know a lot about how air quality is affected, especially in nearby residential areas, according to the study, “Air concentrations of volatile compounds near oil and gas production.” Part of the problem is where most academic researchers take samples. Too often, they choose monitoring locations based on the requirements of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which look for regional, not local, effects of pollution. When looking at air quality around UOG production operations, they may select sites opportunistically, based on where they can gain access or where they can find electricity for their monitoring equipment. This approach, however, may not produce data that is representative of the actual impact of fracking on air quality.
The recently released study pioneers a new approach to choosing sites for air quality monitoring: it mobilizes citizens to identify the areas where sampling was most likely to show the continuous impact of fracking emissions. Citizens chose places in their communities where they noticed a high degree of industrial activity, visible emissions, or health symptoms that could be caused by breathing toxic chemicals. They took samples themselves, following rigorous protocols developed by non-profit groups working in conjunction with regulatory agencies and academic researchers.
The result – we now have a lot more evidence to show that UOG production can have a big impact on local air quality. And, as a result of citizens’ involvement in selecting sampling sites, scientists and regulators now have a better idea of where to look to start studying those impacts systematically.
The study demonstrates once again the power of citizen science to improve scientific research. But it also shows the political power of citizen science. In a companion report released by the non-profit Coming Clean, the study’s citizen-authors use their finding that air quality is significantly affected by UOG to argue that governments need to be cautious when issuing permits, and to call for more extensive monitoring that includes citizen scientists.
Next week, several of the study’s authors—and many other citizen scientists—will convene in New Orleans to cultivate the scientific and political power of citizen science. At the Community-based Science for Action Conference, November 15-17, citizens dedicated to protecting their community’s environment and health will have the chance to try out new technologies for environmental monitoring, share best practices for successful collaboration between scientists and citizens, and learn about the legal and political issues where their science can make a difference.
Want to get involved? Registration is still open at the conference’s website. Can’t attend but want to support your fellow citizen scientists? Consider making a donation to help send someone else to New Orleans.
Keep track of water quality and learn about environmental stewardship with Stream Team.
Looking for more water monitoring projects? We’ve got you covered!
Spencer Towle is a senior at Cate School in Carpinteria. As we walk down to a bioswale on the campus, this San Francisco native with a head of unruly brown hair describes his first year as a member of the Cate School Stream Team, “A senior took us through all the instruments and showed us how to work them, and what we were sampling for. That made Stream Team a lot more real for me. We weren’t just dipping instruments into the water and reading the numbers—I really learned the purpose behind it.”
Joshua Caditz, an environmental lawyer turned science teacher, leads the group and is proud of his band of water-monitoring geeks. “The students for the most part run this watershed monitoring project with the guidance and assistance of Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, and they’re doing an outstanding job. We currently manage the entire watershed except for the summer when Channelkeeper sends in a few interns to take over.” Caditz founded the Cate Stream Team in 2010 with the two-fold objective of conducting a long-term study of water quality in the Carpinteria watershed, and engaging students in a combination of field and laboratory work. He lodged the program under the oversight of the non-profit group Santa Barbara Channelkeeper.
Santa Barbara Channelkeeper operates similar programs to keep tabs on water quality in Ventura, Santa Barbara and Goleta. Jenna Driscoll, Watershed and Marine Program Associate at Santa Barbara Channelkeeper says, “It’s really rewarding to see people connecting with their watershed. When I first started working for Channelkeeper I was shocked to learn how many streams there are in our area. Santa Barbara Channelkeeper is a “watchdog” organization. Often times government agencies do not have the resources to do all the monitoring that they are mandated to do by law. When this is the case, Channelkeeper steps in to fill the monitoring gap.”
Monitor the quality and quantity of Wisconsin’s streams with Water Action Volunteers.
Interested in water monitoring projects? We’ve got you covered!
Human uses of the land impact the quality and quantity of waters in local streams, which in turn, can affect our recreational activities such as fishing, boating and swimming, and our drinking water quality. If we understand where, how and to what extent our streams are impacted, we can take steps to protect and improve them.
Citizen scientists in Wisconsin’s Water Action Volunteers (WAV) program assess the quality and quantity of water in their local streams. Their monitoring helps natural resource professionals understand the extent of non-point pollution in the state. Non-point pollution comes from sources across the landscape and is the primary source of pollution in Wisconsin’s (and our nation’s) waters. It includes sediment and nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which enter streams from agricultural and urban lands. Volunteer monitors also help track streamflow over time, since urban and agricultural land uses can significantly increase or decrease flows. For example, in urban areas, increased impervious surfaces result in less infiltration of rainwater into the ground and change baseflows and stormwater runoff. Also, where there is groundwater pumping, streamflow can be drastically reduced, which can endanger fish and other aquatic life.
WAV, sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and the University of Wisconsin-Extension, has three levels of participation: Introductory; Status and Trends; and Special Projects Monitoring. Anyone interested in learning more about his or her local stream is encouraged to participate. Although methods are targeted towards adults and middle and high school students, younger children can participate in many of the activities with assistance. Everyone must begin with introductory monitoring unless they have previous experience. Each spring, trainings are held in various locations in Wisconsin for new volunteers to learn monitoring methods. The time commitment is one hour per month from May through October for Introductory and Status and Trends monitoring, while the time commitment varies for adults who participate in Special Project Monitoring. Some Special Project volunteers monitor for just a few minutes per month to assess phosphorus. Others monitor year around, sometimes several times per month, to assess impacts of road salting on streams. Those interested in joining WAV can visit the program website to find contacts and a calendar of upcoming events.
Editor’s Note: This post has been republished and shared in celebration of SciStarter’s Back To School campaign where you will find 10 citizen science projects aligned with Next Generation Science Standards.
Using Journey North’s Monarch Project to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards
Citizen Science and Monarch Migration as a Teaching Tool
Journey North (JN) is a citizen science project for the observation and tracking of seasonal weather changes and phenology or life cycle changes in animals and plants. This website is an amazing resource and interactive platform for teachers. There’s so much information that they provide that it’s almost jaw dropping. On their site you’ll find how your class can participate in tracking everything from seasonal changes in daylight to migrations of humming birds, whales, and even flower blooming. One of the most popular citizen science projects on their site is the monarch butterfly project. In this project students and teachers can learn about the life cycles of monarchs, their natural history, and migration. Students may look for monarchs in their local area and report observations of eggs, larvae, pupa, and adults. This project encompasses much more than just observations. The content provided on their site includes geography, historical and real-time data, ecological conservation, life cycles, reading comprehension and more.
Materials You’ll Need:
- A computer with internet access.
- A printer that can print in color (preferably).
- Optional: milkweed plants and flowers that may be conducive for monarch food, water, or shelter.
Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:
- This project can be done either in or out of the classroom and in or out of urban areas.
- It requires very little equipment or tools.
- Usable data, graphs, maps, reading materials, and lesson plans, and identification tools are provided on the site.
- You can meet almost every standard of Common Core and Next. Gen standards with this project and all the resources provided on the site.
- Teachers can use the lessons provided even if they don’t participate in the project.
- Students learn geography and science together.
- Students obtain a “sense of place” by making local observations and contributing to a global observation effort that can be seen in “real-time” on the site’s maps.
- Zero data can be useful, which teaches children about the importance of collecting all types of data.
- Uploading data is safe and children remain anonymous, it’s put in as a class.
- They have a free app that you can use in the field with a smart phone so you’re not tied to the classroom for uploading data. Students can put in their observations in real time.
Supplied on Journey North’s Website you’ll find a while host of videos, reading materials, maps, slide shows, downloadable data, and more. There is also a teacher’s guide that can help you find introductory lessons and more information for your lessons. They also offer the ability to be monarch “ambassadors” and exchange cards with schools in South America through their “symbolic migration” butterfly card program.
Online Safety for Children
Teachers create one account for uploading data for their entire class so no specific student data is needed. They do ask that you put in your address and provide an e-mail. They also ask you what grade you teach and approximately how many students are in that grade. After one initial registration you don’t need to do anything more except log in and begin recording observations. A log-in is not required to access all the free lesson support materials on the site.
Looking for ways to fund citizen science research? Check out the Citizen Science Funding Resource Guide!
Jessica Clemente, an environmental science graduate thought she would be doing work outside of her community once she got her degree. But she is an asthmatic, and when she found out there was an asthma study taking place in the area of her home in South Bronx she became involved and eventually took the lead. “Living day-to-day in an area where all I saw was high traffic volumes, poor air quality and adding more waste to our community got me enraged,” she says in an EPA video interview. Her anger prompted action, and she looked at the tools to empower herself and her community—education and advocacy.
In many cases, there is a connection between socioeconomic status and air quality. Some call it environmental justice—why should a factory spew tons of filth into the same air that a poor, young family across the road breathes? Amanda Kaufman, the Environmental Health Fellow in the Air Climate and Energy Program Office at the EPA says, “We are currently working with a community in Newark, New Jersey that has faced environmental justice issues in the past and still faces many to this day. We hope to collaborate with the community action group to establish a community-led air monitoring project.”