Archive for the ‘Ecology & Environment’ Category
Winter is here! Check out more winter weather themed citizen science projects at Scistarter.
You know what the atmosphere is. But have you heard of the cryosphere? No, it’s not a giant frozen ice-cream sphere, if that’s what you’re thinking. (That’s not what you were thinking? Never mind then!) The cryosphere, as Wikipedia most sagely teaches us, is the portion of the earth’s surface where water is in solid form (snow, ice, etc). Now, if you’re planning to drive home the day before Christmas, you will probably check out how much snow there is on the road on the weather channel or weather.com. These outlets get their snow depth data from government sources such as the NOAA’s National Weather Service or the Canadian Meteorological Centre (CMC). Apart from the safety of your road trip, there are many more uses to knowing what the snow cover will be such as predicting how much water rivers will receive from snowmelt. However, because the data comes from simulated models which use a combination of ground and satellite based snow measurements, their accuracy needs to be tested.
That is what the cryosphere research team at the University of Waterloo is trying to do with SnowTweets. And they want you to help them. Using just a ruler, a Twitter account and a few minutes of your time, you can contribute to cryosphere research. By crowdsourcing tweets about snow depths at various locations, the team hopes to collect frequent and high resolution data and match it with the meteorological data from NOAA & CMC. So how do you get started? Simple!
- Get a twitter account if you don’t already have one.
- Get a ruler or make your own (like the snowman themed one pictured on the right). Put on your winter gear!
- Step out and find one or more patches of undisturbed snow. If you can find a place away from buildings like a nearby park your measurement is more likely to be accurate. But if you can’t don’t worry. Your backyard will do just fine!
- Take a few depth measurements to see how it varies in different regions. Then, take the most representative measurement. For example if you measured 3”, 4”, 8”, 4”, 5”and 3” the most representative reading is probably 4” (The 8” would be an outlier). Remember that no snow measurements (i.e. 0 inches) are important to tweet out too!
- Tweet the measurement using the #snowtweets along with your zip code or latitude and longitude like this
#snowtweets <snow depth in cm, in or ft> at <zip code or latitude, longitude>
For example #snowtweets 5.0 in. at 20500 or #snowtweets 8.3 cm at 41.500, -120.750
If you’re outside North America, be sure to throw in your country name as well along with the zip code (e.g. #snowtweets 2 cm at 102-8166 Japan). Here’s my snowtweet
- Tweet many times a day as you want. Even better, if you’re going on a winter road trip, take a ruler, measure and tweet wherever you stop! Remember, more data = better!
- Give it a few minutes. The data will be processed by their automated system and will show up on Snowbird, the special visualization tool that the team has created for this project.
From early stage analyses of snowtweets data, the team has found that it matches pretty well with the data from simulations. Interestingly, the more tweets they get which are in regions close by to each other, the better the data matches. So the more you tweet, the more accurate their analyses will be! You can visit their website for more details on how to measure snow accurately and the SnowTweets team. Now get out there and write some #snowtweets! Image credits: NASA, www.makingfriends.com
Arvind Sureh is a graduate student in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology at the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from PSG College of Technology, India. For his thesis, he has been studying the molecular mechanisms behind uterine contraction during pregnancy. He is also an information addict, gobbling up everything he can find on and off the internet. He enjoys reading, teaching, talking and writing science, and following that interest led him to SciStarter. Outside the lab and the classroom, he can be found behind the viewfinder of his camera. www.suresharvind.com
Baby, it’s cold outside! To mark the first day of winter on December 21st, the SciStarter team put together this list of wintery Citizen Science projects. We bet you’ll feel warm and fuzzy inside when you participate.
Even if your local winter weather does not include ice and snow, you can take a virtual trip to Antarctica. Use satellite images to help scientists count Wedell Seals. Get started!
As an IceWatch USA™ volunteer, you observe a water body in your area over the winter, and report on weather (snow, precipitation, ice cover) as well as wildlife activity. Get started!
Transcribe Arctic and worldwide weather observations made by United States’ ships since the mid-19th century. Help scientists create accurate climate models. Historians will use your work to track past ship movements and tell the stories of the people on board. Get started!
You can complain about your flu symptoms (or boast about your health) while helping scientists measure influenza trends. Get started!
Contribute to real-time research by Tweeting your snow and ice depth measurements to researchers at the University of Waterloo, Canada. Get started!
Do you participate in more than one citizen science project? We’ll give you a free T-shirt if you let us pick your brain for 15 minutes! Email Carolyn@SciStarter.com
We are partnering up with WHYY-a National Public Radio station-to help share stories about citizen science projects and people in PA, NJ and DE. If you have a story to share, let us know! Contact Lily@SciStarter.com
If you’d like your citizen science project featured on SciStarter, email Jenna@scistarter.com
The monarch butterfly is a remarkable species. Each year these insects migrate in a similar pattern to birds from colder to warmer climates as the seasons change, often returning to the same overwintering sites every year. Unlike birds, however, no single monarch lives long enough to make the whole migration, so the journey occurs across multiple generations, adding to the complexity and incredible nature of the phenomenon. There are two main groups of monarchs in North America that are distinguished by their migration routes: the eastern group spends its spring and summer in eastern or central U.S and overwinters in Mexico, while the western group lives in central California and surrounding states for most of the year, overwintering on the California coast. Although these two groups are the same species, they are studied independently, as different factors affect their life cycles and migrations.
The Xerces Society, an organization dedicated to the conservation of invertebrates including insects, has been studying the western monarch population for nearly two decades through a citizen science project called the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count. The project asks volunteers to travel to monarch overwintering sites on the California coast and count the butterflies that are present. Sarina Jepsen from the Xerces society describes that the project is “really an extraordinary effort” because of the sheer number of monarchs and their broad distribution across the California coastline. She notes that the project provides “the primary information” the society has to understand annual changes in the monarch population.
So far, the count has provided scientists with two important pieces of information. The first is that the monarch population has declined dramatically over the last 15 years – on average, only 10% of monarchs are returning to their overwintering sites compared to 1997. A recent study has linked this decline in part to climate change, which affects the monarch’s primary food source and mating ground, the milkweed plant. The second piece of information from the count, as Jepsen describes, is a “spatial picture of how the monarchs are doing and areas that can be prioritized for conservation projects.” Another factor in the monarch decline is the loss or degradation of over wintering sites, so a detailed picture of their distribution in the winter is critical to maintaining the remaining sites that these butterflies use.
Although many of the people participating in the project have been dedicated for a number of years, the Xerces Society is always looking for new volunteers to join in the count. Jepsen asserts that for new participants helping out, “It’s our hope that they’ll develop an appreciation of monarch butterflies and a desire to work towards their conservation.” The count takes place for three weeks around the Thanksgiving holiday, so it’s a great activity to burn off some of those extra holiday calories while aiding in the conservation of these incredible insects.
Reference: Xerces Society
Emily Lewis is a PhD candidate in chemistry at Tufts University, where she analyzes catalysts for synthetic fuels on the nanoscale. She received her BS and MS degrees from Northeastern University, and her thesis work examined fuel cell catalysts under real operating conditions. She loves learning about energy and the environment, exploring science communication, and investigating the intersection of these topics with the policy world. When she’s not writing or in the lab, you’ll probably spot Emily at the summit of one of the White Mountains in NH. Follow her: @lewisbase, emilyannelewis.com.
This is a guest post by Karen McDonald. When not writing her blog The Infinite Spider, Karen is a guest blogger, curriculum developer, science content editor, and outdoor educator with over thirteen years in informal science education. She has an MS in Biology and a BS in Environmental Science and Philosophy. Currently she works for Smithsonian and contracts for Discovery Channel.
When you consider the field of citizen science you probably think of it as something you do by collecting data, taking pictures, finding plants or animals, or uploading sightings. There’s a new form of citizen science emerging called a “thought experiment.” You may be familiar with thought experiments like that of “Schrödinger’s Cat” or Einstein’s “Chasing a Beam of Light” which use theoretical reasoning to solve a problem. However, thought experiments may also be applied to biological science because you are considering a hypothesis, principle, or theory and its consequences as it applies to a scientific application. This theory may or may not be implemented. The big difference between traditional citizen science and a thought experiment is that thought experiments do not use direct observation or experiments, they rely completely on theory. Thought experiments also have the advantage that they can be done from anywhere, which make them accessible to anyone who might be interested in trying them out. You can do them in a classroom, on the metro, or on an exercise bike.
A Bit of Background for This Thought Experiment
The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s Marine Invasions Research Lab, located in Edgewater, MD, along with a field branch in Tiburon California have teamed up with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Alaska Southeast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and San Francisco State University to monitor a creatively named species of invasive brackish water tunicate called “rock vomit,” or Didemnum vexillum. It’s thought that D. vexillum originated in Japan, but now it’s found all over the world and it’s an aggressive invader. SERC scientists first found it growing in the bay of Sitka Alaska in 2010 during a bioblitz.
Rock vomit is a big problem for native habitats and commercial fishermen because it grows in mats (in quickly moving water) and long strands (with low water movement) and covers everything in sight. This includes fishing nets, lines, docks, ship hulls, and all living sessile (non-moving) creatures on the bottom. Rock vomit literally blankets sponges, anemones, bryozoans, scallops, oysters, and mussels. Here is the USGS official page with images and descriptions.
How Does This Citizen Science Thought Project Work?
SERC scientists have been trying to determine how rock vomit spreads and what factors might influence its demise. You can read more about their work using treatments of fresh water, extremely salty water, lack of oxygen, acetic acid, and bleach in a controlled field setting as they try to find out what might work to control it. These researchers are asking you, as citizen scientists, to participate in a thought experiment project to help come up with a way to control rock vomit based on their findings. On the page listed above they give you some factors to consider such as treatment area, containment, limiting mortality of other species and outside the area, wind, waves, and tides. Your job is to think about these variables and to design a theoretical solution to the problem of this invasive species. Remember, the solution may or may not be implemented but your thoughts and theories could help solve a major invasive species problem!
If you would like to submit an idea please send your proposal to Monaca Noble (Noblem@si.edu) by December 16th. The lab will choose the best solution and post the winner on the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center website for Invasive Species.
If you’re looking for some scientific inspiration, try this paper:
McCann, LD, K Holzer, IC Davidson, GV Ashton, and GM Ruiz. 2013. Promoting invasive species control and eradication in the sea: options for managing the tunicate invader Didemnum vexillum in Sitka, Alaska. Marine Pollution Bulletin. Available online.
Dig into even more Thanksgiving projects with your friends and family!
Imagine: After months of treacherous sailing across the open ocean, skirting coral reefs and rocky shores, you alight upon lush tropical islands greeted by enticing aromas, unknown species, and a symphony of bird song…
Four years into her circumnavigation of the globe, the HMS Beagle carrying 24-year-old Charles Darwin landed in the Galápagos Islands forever changing our understanding of biodiversity and species evolution through natural selection. The Galápagos Islands are famous for their vast numbers of endangered and endemic species, rich biodiversity, and isolated Pacific location. Yet, invasive species and human development threaten their existence. Could exploring Darwin’s living laboratory be as simple as a virtual visit?
Research, as well as travel, in the Galápagos Islands is difficult due to its remote location and expense. In Darwin for a Day, a partnership between the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), Google Earth Outreach Team, Catlin Seaview Survey and the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), citizen scientists can virtually explore the best-preserved tropical archipelago in the world from the comfort of home.
Using innovative technology, Google Maps surveyed the Galápagos Islands and their marine environments in May 2013 to create a virtual, 360-degree experience that can be explored through the web. Grab your Darwin hat and moleskin as you select the island you wish to explore, zoom in to street view (much as you do when getting directions to your local pizza place or coffeeshop) then document the unique natural history by describing what you see – plant, animal, reptile, bird, fish. Just as real-life scientists record their data, observations can range from simple descriptions to detailed scientific names and technical information. Images and data are shared with CDF scientists and the iNaturalist community to help characterize the islands, monitor species diversity, and record changes to these delicate ecosystems.
“This is a unique opportunity to spearhead technology science for conservation and public awareness about the importance of the Galápagos ecosystems in a changing world.” according to Daniel Orellana, CDF’s head of Human Systems Research. “The outcomes of the project will allow CDF and GNPD to count on valuable information for research and the continued conservation of the Galápagos Islands.”
Since its launch in September 2013, Darwin for a Day has recorded nearly 600 observations of over 100 different species. As more citizen scientists participate, the data will be used to develop conservations strategies ranging for educational programs to responsible land management and ecotourism strategies without harming these unique ecosystems.
After feasting on turkey and pumpkin pie, why not make a date with Darwin for a Day and explore the exotic and far off wonders of the Galápagos Islands? The blue-footed booby and Galápagos sea lion send their thanks.
This project is also part of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020.
Images: Charlesjsharp & Google
Dr. Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and communicator. Her previous work has included a Mirzayan Science and Technology Graduate Policy Fellowship at the National Academy of Sciences (2012), co-development of several of the final science policy questions with ScienceDebate.org (2012), consulting on the development of the Seattle Science Festival EXPO day (2012), contributing photographer for JF Derry’s book “Darwin in Scotland” (2010) and outreach projects to numerous to count. Not content to stay stateside, Melinda received a B.S in Microbiology from the University of Washington (2001) before moving to Edinburgh, Scotland where she received a MSc (2002) and PhD (2008) from the University of Edinburgh trying to understand how antibiotics kill bacteria. Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science; but if you can, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80, training for two half-marathons, or plotting her next epic adventure.