Archive for the ‘Geology & Earth Sciences’ Category
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.
Calling all water monitoring groups! It is time for the annual Secchi Dip-In. From now until July 22, volunteer and professional water monitoring groups are being asked to take transparency measurements in a local body of water.
A secchi disk is a common tool for measuring water turbidity, or water cloudiness. Turbidity is caused by small particles suspended in the water and is a reflection of water quality. To take turbidity measurements, on a calm and bright day the user lowers the disk into the water until the disk is no longer visible. The depth of the disk is used to calculate turbidity. Land erosion from construction or mining, pollution run-off or increases in algae all lead to higher turbidity.
Started in 1994 at Kent State University, Ohio, the Dip-In always takes place during the first few weeks of July. Participants only have to take one transparency per body of water with their secchi disk. The project helpfully provides links for purchasing disks if you do not already have one.
While project organizers prefer that measurements are taken during the “official” dip-in period, participants are welcome to add data from anytime of the year as well as past years. Currently over 2,000 water bodies are being tracked, most of which are in North America. The data are accessible to anybody interested.
In addition to transparency measurements, participants are asked to give their general impressions of the water quality as well as the area’s general aesthetics and recreational properties. These qualitative data help project researchers ascertain the potential sources affecting water quality.
To learning more or to participate, visit Secchi Dip-In.
Find other environmental projects (and over 600+ other citizen science projects) using our Project Finder.
Dr. Carolyn Graybeal earned her PhD in neuroscience from Brown University in partnership with the National Institutes of Health. After graduating, she became a Christian Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow with the National Academies of Science where she had the opportunity to immerse herself in the policy side of science. In addition the human brain, she is interested in the influence of education and mass media in society’s understanding of science. Originally from California, she is learning to identify the four seasons of the East Coast and is getting pretty good at it.
With Hurricane Sandy looming large, weather’s the nation’s top news story. In case you’re at home sitting out the storm like the bulk of the SciStarter team, we’ve got you covered (no pun intended) with plenty of weather-related citizen science opportunities to help researchers and advance science.
Bonus: here’s a weather-appropriate, musical supplement to your citizen science project browsing below, Shipping report: an oldie-but-goodie from classic BBC.
While Sandy is currently moving across the east coast, it presents an opportunity for citizen scientists to help researchers at the University of Utah. Scientists studying the isotopic composition of rainwater and snow are enlisting the help of volunteers to develop an unprecedented spatial and temporal dataset documenting the isotopic composition of rainwater (and snow) associated with this major storm system. You can study the storm while it’s happening (with safety in mind first, of course!) by collecting rain and/or snow samples and logging information in a spreadsheet that you can download on the WaterIsotopes.org website!
This citizen science project allows you to help scientists recover Arctic and worldwide weather observations made by United States’ ships since the mid-19th century. Browse through online archival data of ship logs from decades past, then help transcribe and digitize them so that researchers can access them more easily. These transcriptions will contribute to climate model projections and will improve our knowledge of past environmental conditions. Historians will use your work to track past ship movements and tell the stories of the people on board. This nascent nautical venture is only 4% complete, so there’s plenty of work to be done!
The gorgeous, interactive website includes helpful tutorials on the transcription process and invites you to linger, browse, and imagine the history behind the documents you will be analyzing. Pick a vessel that suits your fancy, and dive into the vast sea of archives that come from it.
Beautiful videos like the one below illustrate the anthropological fingerprint and relevance in all the data:
Still craving more weather citizen science projects? Our SciStarter Project Finder is a library of hundreds of citizen science projects! Here are more of our favorite weather-related projects also featured on our home page today.
SkyWarn: During hazardous weather, SKYWARN volunteers report what is happening at their location. Reports arrive at the forecaster’s office via the telephone, fax, Internet, and amateur radio. The reports are combined with radar and satellite data to determine what the storms will do next.
CoCoRaHS: Rain, Hail, Snow Network: Each time a rain, hail, or snow storm occurs, volunteers take measurements of precipitation from their registered locations (reports of ‘zero’ precipitation are encouraged too!). The reports are submitted to the website and are immediately available for viewing. The National Weather Service, meteorologists, hydrologists, emergency managers, city utilities, insurance adjusters, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, engineers, mosquito control, ranchers and farmers, outdoor and recreation interests, teachers, students, and neighbors in the community use the data.
SatCam: SatCam lets you capture observations of sky and ground conditions with a smart phone app at the same time that an Earth observation satellite is overhead. Observe the earth’s weather from above.
RainLog: Live in Arizona? All of this week’s excitement about the weather doesn’t just have to be for east coasters. Join RainLog’s network of over 1,000 volunteers that use backyard rain gauges to monitor precipitation across Arizona and in neighboring states. Data collected through this network will be used for a variety of applications, from watershed management activities to drought planning at local, county, and state levels.
SnowTweets: How much snow is on the ground where you are? Cryosphere researchers at the University of Waterloo want to know! The Snowtweets Project provides a way for people interested in snow measurements to quickly broadcast their own snow depth measurements to the web.
Students’ Cloud Observations Online (S’COOL): a citizen science project in which volunteers make and report cloud observations from sites of their choosing, such as a field trip, vacation, or even a backyard. The project aims to collect data on cloud type, height, cover, and related conditions from all over the world. Observations are sent to NASA for comparison to similar information obtained from satellite.
Citizen Weather Observer Program: Are you a ham? The Citizen Weather Observer Program is a group of ham radio operators and other private citizens around the country who have volunteered the use of their weather data for education, research, and use by interested parties. There are currently over 8,000 registered members worldwide and over 500 different user organizations. Their weather data are used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and distributed to user organizations.
Though it may be that these citizen science projects require more rain than shine for full effect, we’re sure that they’re likely to help brighten your day or, at the least, provide plenty of distractions from the gloomy news reports.
If you see a landslide, a swirling mass of unmoored dirt and rock and debris tumbling downhill at speeds of several tens of meters per second, run away as fast as you can. If it doesn’t bring you down, grab your computer and report it to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Landslide Hazards Program through their recently launched Did You See It? website.
The USGS will use your information to build a crowd sourced, national landslide database, a valuable resource for both scientists and citizens. The data will not only help researchers identify the areas of the country where landslides are most prevalent and better understand the conditions that most often lead to their occurrence, but also serve as a way for people to learn about risks to their persons or property.
“In the United States, more people have a chance of experiencing a landslide than any other natural disaster,” said Peter Lyttle, coordinator of the Landslide Hazards Program and a 36-year veteran of the USGS. “It’s kind of a stealth hazard.”
Thousands of landslides occur every year, claiming upwards of 25 lives and resulting in billions of dollars in damages and lost productivity, but unlike, say, earthquakes, there are relatively few scientists (perhaps 50, according to Lyttle) tracking and studying them in the United States. Lyttle hopes that Did You See It?, an homage to the enormously successful Did You Feel It? earthquake survey, will provide researchers with the vast amount of data his small staff could never collect on their own.
“The science is still in its very early days,” said Lyttle. “We’re still using a very broad brush.”
Knowing the exact location and time of a landslide will help the USGS pinpoint the areas at risk when other hazards–heavy rainfall in the East, sweeping wildfires in the West–threaten to undermine the underground. The need for awareness grows with us, as our population swells and communities demand development into vulnerable hillside areas.
“We’re putting ourselves at risk by expanding into these areas,” said Lyttle. “It takes a lot of manpower to make predictions and give early warning. We’re not capable of doing that for the whole country, so we want people to educate themselves if they’re in danger and learn what they can do to protect their homes.”
goal: Help seismologists detect and warn of earthquakes.
task: Do a 1 minute cheer with your class and measure the shaking of your classroom.
Join the Big Cheer for Science and Engineering on April 27, 2012 at 1:30 pm ET, presented by SciStarter, Science Cheerleader, the USGS, the Iris Consortium, Discover Magazine and the USA Science and Engineering Festival. Anchored at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC, this one minute cheer will include plenty of stomping and shaking in an effort to get kids jazzed about science AND measure seismic activity caused by their cheer! By downloading the free software as instructed, your classroom can become part of a national network to help researchers at the USGS detect future earthquakes!
In Washington, DC, dozens of Science Cheerleaders (scientists and engineers–who also happen to be cheerleaders for the Redskins, Wizards and Ravens among other NFL and NBA teams) will lead a one minute cheer for science with 10,000 students at the DC Convention center. While they’re doing the cheer in DC, hundreds of schools across the country will do the same cheer at the same time. In fact, Mayor Nutter will lead the Big Cheer in Philadelphia and several Science Cheerleaders will be in local schools to lead the cheer.
During the cheer, you can have your students record your local ground movement and share it with other participating schools for comparison. Comparisons can be further made to how much the ground shakes during the Big Cheer at the Washington D.C. Convention Center and in your classroom and to how much it shakes during an actual earthquake.
To measure the shaking of your Big Cheer, all you need is a smart phone, a Mac or IBM Thinkpad laptop, or one of the Quake Catch Network sensors that connects to a computer’s USB port. Each of these devices has an accelerometer inside that can record ground motion in three dimensions. The software is simple to download and install.
Learn more and get started here on the Big Cheer for Science project page!