Archive for the ‘Nature & Outdoors’ Category

Citizen Science takes a bite out of Natural Disasters

By August 2nd, 2016 at 9:19 am | Comment

Collectively, your small acts lead to big results.
Natural disasters, like earthquakes, tornados, and landslides, are frightening and deadly. There are small, but important, steps citizen scientists can take to help predict and respond to these occurrences.Our editors have selected five exemplary projects, below. Be sure to read the safety warnings when applicable.

Find even more projects with the SciStarter Global Project Finder.

The SciStarter Team

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Augmented Reality in Citizen Science to Connect with Reality

By August 1st, 2016 at 7:25 pm | Comment

Illustration by Mark Catesby 1731

Illustration by Mark Catesby 1731

Fables are fun ways to accept insights into our own lives. Fairy tales are enjoyable ways to inspire hope. Augmented reality games that overlay fantasy directly onto reality are a blast, plus they create a powerful lens to understand ourselves and the world. Citizen science is a lens on the world too. The intersection of augmented reality technology and citizen science could turn science fiction ideas into science non-fiction.

The potential for overlap seems great because of the similarities between citizen science activities and Pokémon Go, the augmented reality game played on mobile phones. First, the resemblance between players of Pokémon Go and centuries old natural historians run pretty deep. Natural historians, today and in the past, have been obsessed with finding biodiversity, the variety of life on Earth. Children of the 21st century seek to find the variety of Nintendo creatures, let’s call them Pokéversity. “Gotta Catch ‘Em All,” the motto of the Pokémon series, is not different from the silent mantra, “one more bird,” resounding in the minds of birdwatchers keeping life-lists.

pokemonGo_pinkachuSecond, as mimics of wild animals, each Pokémon species is unique and has a backstory of its natural history. The Pokémon mascot, Pikachu, is a rotund rodent that dwells in forests. A Pikachu has yellow fur, long ears with black tips, rosey circles on its pouched cheeks, and tails shaped like lightening bolts.

Third, the official inventory, Pokedex, provides details about each Pokémon, its traits, behaviors, and life cycle, much like official species accounts in the Birds of North America. Plus, like John James Audubon, Pokémon fans have created illustrated books to help identify the little monsters, like the Field Guide to Kanto by Kari Fry, an illustrated natural history of Pokémon creatures.

Fourth, conservation biologists and environmental educators who add engagement goal to citizen science envy the capacity of Pokémon Go to stimulate the curiosity of children. When in danger, a Pikachu will release an electric charge from its glands. With traits like that, how can real wildlife compete for public attention? According to one study, by age 8, kids can identify far more species of Pokémon than common native wildlife. The researchers found that young children have enormous capacity for learning about flora and fauna, but that conservation biologists – or whoever we might assign this responsibility – are not inspiring kids to learn about real, living and breathing things. The study results motivated the creation of Phylomon, a trading card game with real animals instead of Nintendo creatures.

Despite the overlap, advocates for nature-based experiences are still steps behind Nintendo. It is Pokémon Go that is getting kids (of all ages) to leave their rooms, use their legs, and pursue and capture a menagerie of fantasy critters like Pikachu and Squirtle, Zubats, Paras, and Caterpies. Pokémon Go rouses people out of their homes and into city centers, historical places, and nature centers. As Pokémon Go and citizen science activities kindle the spirit of natural historians, both tap the human desire to search and discover, rely on the thrill of using gadgets to see what is otherwise invisible, and instill feelings of belonging that comes from being part of something bigger. The fantasy world of Pokémon Go, overlaid onto our real world, ignites human imagination. Could using augmented reality spark human imagination about the natural world?

One way citizen science can leverage augmented reality technology is recruitment. Pokémon Go gets people out and about where they might notice more about their real-world environment.  Players are encountering injured wildlife and delivering to rehabilitation centers. Morgan Jackson created the hashtag #PokeBlitz, modelled after BioBlitz which are citizen science events where people identify and catalog as many species as possible in a given place. Similarly, Kayte Smith created the hashtag #PokemonGoIRL (In the Real World). Both #PokeBlitz and #PokemonGoIRL are a foot in the door for more people to enter citizen science projects, like those with iNaturalist, the app most frequently used for BioBlitzes.pokemonGo_tweets1

Another area where citizen science can use augmented reality technology is with protocols for volunteer data collection. Many projects want observations from specific places, and it is possible to direct people to those locations with an augmented reality app. For example, FotoQuest is a gamified citizen science project focused on documenting land-use change by gathering geo-located photographs taken by volunteers. The app guides people to exact points where they take photos guided by augmented reality technology to position their camera. For example, in Austria, there has not been proper inventory of wetlands, and FotoQuest volunteers are making this possible.

Another area where citizen science can make use of augmented reality technology is data visualization. Imagine augmented reality apps allowing you to enter landscapes that are graphs of data. For example, imagine taking projections of sea level rise and making it possible to stand 30 miles from the coast and look at your feet and see via an augmented reality app whether or not your feet, ankles, or knees would be wet in that location in 30 years. Augmented reality apps could help us see the many features of our world that we cannot otherwise see, like radio, cell phone and wi-fi waves which are outside the visible spectrum. Architecture of Radio is an augmented reality app that allows you to visualize radio waves and cellular signals and other digital signatures.

In the next #CitSciChat, we’ll explore ways that citizen science projects can use augmented reality technology.  Join the conversation on Twitter during the next #CitSciChat on 3 August at Noon ET. During this 1-hour Q&A session, we’ll hear from the following guest panelists:

Kate Jones (@ProfKateJones) from UCL

Karen James (@kejames) from Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory

Lila Higgins (@lilamayhiggins) from Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Scott Loarie (@loarie) of iNaturalist (@iNaturalist)

Morgan Jackson (@BioInFocus) from University of Guelph, host of @BreakingBio

Lea Shell (@VeganBugLady) from NCSU @YourWild_Life

If you don’t use Twitter, you can follow the stream here:


Urban Citizen Science

By July 27th, 2016 at 7:16 pm | Comment

A recent article in the New York Times highlights the way urban environments are affecting evolution in a variety of species. From European blackbirds with high-pitched calls to beat the sound of traffic to spiders adapted to build their webs closer to light poles, the dynamic and harsh urban environment is changing our biodiversity. Citizen scientists are crucial to understanding and documenting these changes. Below we highlight 5 citizen science projects that can be done in urban areas so you can help researchers across the world! You can find 1500 more projects and events on the SciStarter project finder.


Lauren Nichols


Urban Buzz

Collect cicadas and send them to scientists to learn how this insect is changing with climate change and habitat loss. Get started here.





Victor Loewen  



Celebrate Urban Birds

Observe birds in your area to help scientists learn how habitat improvement affects birds in urban environments. Get started here.




Urban Nature Research Center ProjectsNature_map

The UNCR out of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles runs several urban biodiversity studies on everything from squirrels to snails. Learn more about SLIME, RASCALS, the Southern California Squirrel Survey, and get started now!




Trees Please Trees Please

You can help improve Hamilton Ontario’s urban forests and air quality with Trees Please! You can collect data for an interactive database of urban tree health that will ultimately be compared with air quality data. Get started here.





DarkSkyMeter_-_Logo_-_Mockup_-_Web_-_3 (1)

Dark Sky Meter

Help measure light pollution in your area with the Dark Sky Meter app. You’ll help create a global map of nighttime light pollution. Get started here.


Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!

National Moth Week is Back!

By July 24th, 2016 at 9:54 am | Comment

Hummingbird Moth (Photo Credit: Larry Lamsa CC BY SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Hummingbird Moth (Photo Credit: Larry Lamsa CC BY SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

by Nohra Murad

It’s that exciting time of year again: it’s National Moth Week!

But not just any National Moth Week. NMW 2016 marks the fifth year that the Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission has run National Moth Week (NMW), a time for citizen scientists to go out moth-ing in their community. This year’s NMW will be run from July 23 to 31.

David Moskowitz and Liti Haramaty of the commission have been running Moth Nights in their local community since 2005. Since then, Moth Night has turned into an entire week for everyone from the seasoned biologist to the curious toddler to celebrate nature’s diversity together.

What’s so interesting about moths? They’re too often overlooked, but that’s usually because of their incredible ability to blend in with our environment. With wings camouflaged to look like tree bark or dark leaves, they aren’t noticeable, but once they’re flying, their real beauty goes on display.

Moths are also most active during the night, making for great citizen scientist events that can be anything from a grand “moth-ball” to a calm night on your own porch. All that you’ll need is a camera and a nice, strong light to photograph your findings and contribute to the ever-growing database of moth types.

Like any critter, moths will look a little different from place to place, but it’s not until moths of all different sizes and patterns are gathered in one place that you can see how diverse they really are. The same idea works with humans! Anyone can explore the secret night life of moths.

Check out NMW’s map of official events happening near you. There’s lots of exciting ways to get moth-ing!

If you won’t be here for NMW, no worries: the Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA) has an online database year-round for citizen scientists to submit their pictures of moths, butterflies, and caterpillars. You can read about the opportunity here on SciStarter’s website and join in anytime.

Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!

Poké Around With Citizen Science

By July 22nd, 2016 at 1:39 am | Comment

It's taking the world by storm. How can citizen science benefit? (Credit: Eduardo Woo/(CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s taking the world by storm. How can citizen science benefit? (Credit: Eduardo Woo/(CC BY-SA 2.0)

by Jennifer Cutraro

By now, you’ve surely seen, heard about, or even joined the hordes of people wandering about outdoors,  phones held right in front of their faces. In the two weeks since Pokémon Go’s release, there’s been much ado about the game: how it gets people outdoors, how it promotes physical activity, how it’s already sparked a robust community of haters, and the risks of playing the game without paying attention to your surroundings.

Risks aside, I’m not the first to be jumping-up-and-down excited about the educational and research opportunities this presents. Within days of Pokémon Go’s launch, entomologist Morgan Jackson created the hashtag #PokeBlitz — a clever mashup of Pokémon and BioBlitz, a type of time-limited biodiversity scavenger hunt. He and a community of scientists and educators are using it on Twitter to help other gamers identify the IRL — in real life — plants and animals they encounter while on their Pokémon adventures. It’s a great way to learn about the plants and animals that share your neighborhood.

Pokémon Go also presents a great opportunity for citizen science — if you’re already out looking for charmeleon and poliwrath, you can contribute to one of many projects around the country looking for information about the (actual)  plants, animals, and even stars you see right in your neighborhood. Here are some projects to help you get started:

If you have no idea what kind of tree, bird, or mushroom you’ve found, that’s  no problem. After you share a photo on Twitter with the #PokeBlitz hashtag, send it along to iNaturalist, where a team of amateur naturalists can also help identify the species you found. iNaturalist has a free app that makes it easy for you to share photos with their community, including a “Help Me ID This Species” button. Every photograph you share with iNaturalist contributes valuable data to scientists monitoring species occurrences around the world. Browse their site to check out photos of plants and animals others in your local community have shared with iNaturalist — a simple and easy way to learn more about nature right in your neighborhood.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Celebrate Urban Birds program is a good starting point for both learning to identify common birds across the country and contributing information about your local species to this important citizen science program. If birds aren’t your thing, take time to smell the flowers, then share the flower’s location and life cycle stage with Project BudBurst, a nationwide phenology monitoring program with a robust collection of curriculum and other materials for educators and families. You can also help scientists learn more about seasonal migration by sending information about songbirds, butterflies, and other species you stumble upon at your PokéStop to Journey North.

If you’re out in the evening, count the number of stars you see for GLOBE at Night, a campaign measuring light pollution around the world. You also can use your phone’s camera to record light pollution levels in your area, data the folks at the Dark Sky Meter project would really like to have. And if you’re lucky enough to see fireflies when you’re outdoors, please share that information with our friends over at Firefly Watch.

To be fair, there’s no shortage of opinion about Pokémon Go — what it means for meaningful outdoor experience, the place of technology in the outdoors, whether it just provides another way to disengage from the world around us. In a thoughtful piece in the New York Times, Richard Louv, author of Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-RIch Life, shares his nuanced perspective on how we might consider Pokémon Go’s potential to encourage people to explore nature. He offers us all a simple frame of reference:  

“Here’s a litmus test: how long does it take a person to look up from the screen and actually experience the natural world?”

To me, that’s a helpful and practical lens through which to view any piece of technology or media. Whether it’s watching TV, playing a game, hanging out on social media or, yes, playing Pokémon Go, we all need to look away from the screen from time to time. You might be more likely to do just that if you also turn your Pokémon Go adventure into an opportunity to get to know your actual neighborhood, learn a little about nature, and contribute to science research along the way.

Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!