Archive for the ‘Nature & Outdoors’ Category

The Poetry of Science at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site

By October 26th, 2016 at 10:28 pm | Comment

Carl Sandburg Home National Historical Site stretches over 246 rolling acres in Flat Rock, N.C. The writer and poet Sandburg moved to the property in 1945 for the solitude the natural landscape provides. Today, it is a place where nature, science, and creativity intertwine.

By measuring tree canopy cover, visitors to the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site citizen science trail contribute to research showing how differences in sunlight affect the ecosystem. Photo Credit: Russ Campbell

By measuring tree canopy cover, visitors to the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site citizen science trail contribute to research showing how differences in sunlight affect the ecosystem. Photo Credit: Russ Campbell

Five miles of trails meander throughout the site – some leisurely strolls on walking paths, others intense climbs that summit onto a bucolic overlooks. One trail in particular offers a new and innovative experience that marries the beauty of the setting with the investigative opportunity that inherently exists in nature. The first Kids in Parks Citizen Science TRACK Trail, a program of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, was designed to create and interactive trail experience for children and the adults with them to stop, observe, and reflect on their surroundings.

A canopy of hemlock, maple, and pine shade the mile-long loop that encircles a lake. The citizen science trail guides participants through a series of interactive stations where visitors can measure the age of a tree by counting the rings, test the quality of the water, and observe the weather by reading a thermometer and making observations. Another station provides a bench for visitors to look out across the lake and simply record whatever nature they see. There’s also a place to record your own poem–a nod to Sandburg and the recognition of this site as a tribute to American literature and a reminder of the inexorable link between nature, science, and art.

The view from Little Glassy Mountain, part of the citizen science trail at Carl Sandburg National Historic Site. Credit: Russ Campbell

The view from Little Glassy Mountain, part of the citizen science trail at Carl Sandburg National Historic Site. Photo Credit: Russ Campbell

Administrators at Kids in Parks collect the data, explains director Jason Urroz. “It’s a great way to get kids to collect data and be involved in the science learning process,” he says.

As Carl Sandburg wrote, “Nothing happens unless first we dream.” Park staff themselves had a dream to create a new citizen science trail that would engage visitors in all aspects of what the park has to offer. Supported by the National Park Foundation, they turned this dream into an opportunity to discover the rich and unique environment of the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site.

 


Russ Campbell heads communication at the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, a private biomedical foundation located in Research Triangle Park, N.C. He is a volunteer with the Turtle Rescue Team, based out of the North Carolina State University Veterinary School. He is the cofounder of the Science Communicators of North Carolina (SCONC).

Saving California’s Seals and Sea Lions

By October 11th, 2016 at 10:58 pm | Comment

We tend to think of famine in human terms. But animal populations also experience wide-spread hunger, and the hundreds of emaciated young seals and sea lions stranded on California beaches in the past year were a poignant example.

Fortunately, a large team of citizen scientists at The Marine Mammal Center—an animal hospital and research institute north of San Francisco—were ready for the challenge. Twenty-eight crews of 15-20 people worked day and night shifts to rescue and rehabilitate the starving pups and yearlings. By July, 2016, about 1200 volunteers and 50 staff members had fought to save 380 sea lions, 220 elephant seals, 120 harbor seals, and 20 Guadalupe fur seals.  Read the rest of this entry »

Back To School With Citizen Science: A Conversation with Ben Graves

By September 14th, 2016 at 4:52 pm | Comment

In the next two posts, as part of our SciStarter in the Classroom collection, guest contributor Ben Graves will share his personal experiences and advice for using citizen science in the classroom. Graves is a fellow with the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, which supports a small cohort of early-career teachers across the United States with intensive professional development. He teaches AP Environmental Science and freshman environmental science at Delta High School, a rural school in western Colorado. Before moving to Colorado, Ben was deeply involved in environmental education and citizen science initiatives with youth in the national parks, including leading volunteer trail crews across Alaska and teaching inquiry-based science workshops for students and teachers at NatureBridge, an organization that provides environmental science programming in the national parks.

I spend lot of my summer outdoors—in my garden, running and biking in the mountains, learning new approaches to teaching outdoor and experiential science. As the end of the summer nears, I think about how to get my science students outside. Science doesn’t need to be contained inside a classroom, and I have found that citizen science projects are a great way to get students outdoors and keep them engaged throughout the school year.
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Enlisting youth citizen scientists to combat Zika

By September 1st, 2016 at 10:49 am | Comment

Going out of your way to attract mosquitoes seems like the last thing anyone would want to do, but that is exactly what the national Invasive Mosquito Project is hoping volunteers will do in the name of public health.

Managed through the United States Department of Agriculture, the Invasive Mosquito Project aims to track the spread of invasive container-breeding mosquitoes – those whose females lay eggs in the standing water that collects in containers such as vases, rain barrels, and even pool or boat covers. The introduction of many non-native species often coincides with the introduction of new pathogens, and mosquitoes are notorious for playing host to a number of these, including the viruses responsible for West Nile, dengue and most recently in the news, Zika.

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The Lure of the Redwood Forest

By August 17th, 2016 at 1:47 pm | Comment

Walking through Purisima Creek Redwoods Reserve in northern California, I am the paparazzi of Western sword ferns (Polystichum munitum). When I find one, I stop and click, click, click my smartphone photos and then approach boldly for a closer look. Are new leaves emerging as curled fronds or fiddleheads? Are there round spots called sori—reproductive structures that produce spores—on the underside of the fronds? Are these spots brown or green? And how many centimeters are the four longest uncurled fronds? I am really getting intimate here, probing for the most personal of details, and ready—yes—to post it all online on the Fern Watch website. Researchers there won’t handle this information discreetly. Instead they share among themselves and all their citizen scientists, using our data to learn more about how redwood forests are responding to climate change.

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