Archive for the ‘Ocean & Water’ Category

Is our thirst for energy killing the ecology of the Grand Canyon?

By August 8th, 2014 at 5:45 am | Comment

A new citizen science project invites volunteers to help study insect diversity in the Grand Canyon.

Christian Mehlfuhrer. A shot of the south side of Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River.

A shot of the south side of Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River.

Every night when she’s on the water, Gibney Siemion, a river expedition guide in the Grand Canyon, crouches at the edge of the Colorado River right on the line where the sand turns from wet to dry. Her equipment is rudimentary: a jar of grain alcohol poured into a plastic Tupperware with a glowing bar of black light perched on its edge. But this is an effective insect trap. Siemion, and citizen scientists like her, are using these traps in a 240 mile experiment to understand how energy demand and dams on the Colorado River are washing away key insect species.

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Jellywatch: Observing Blobs for Marine Ecology

By August 2nd, 2014 at 9:52 am | Comment

Turn your beach visit into marine ecology research on worldwide jellyfish populations.

Looking for more summertime citizen science projects? Find them here.

Sea nettle

Sea nettle

Between 2012 and 2013, power plants in Israel, Sweden, Scotland, Japan, and the U.S. were shut down unexpectedly, all for the same reason: jellyfish. Blooms of jellyfish abundantly swarmed in coastal waters and clogged water intake pipes, forcing plants to halt operations and clear the unwitting slaughter. More recently, headlines have heralded an upswing of jellyfish appearances, such as CNN’s “Jellyfish taking over oceans, experts warn,” and Nature News’  “Attack of the blobs.” Just last week, BBC News reported record numbers of jellyfish spotted on the Welsh coastline this summer. At first glance, these sightings appear to reflect a global increase in jellyfish populations, but scientific studies say that current data is too limited to make conclusions on the ecological effects of these gelatinous zooplankton.

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Marine Metre Squared: Ngā Tini o te Waitai (The Multitudes of the Sea)

By July 29th, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Comment

What lives along New Zealand’s shoreline? Find out, one square metre at a time, with Marine Metre Squared.

Looking for more summertime citizen science projects? Find them here.

Binoculars used as branding to ‘focus’ people in to a specific area.

Every now and again I come across a citizen science project that inspires me. Don’t get me wrong—most of the people I interview, whether they are counting butterflies, measuring the night sky or plotting the paths of ocean behemoths, are in some way stirring, and I am invariably intrigued (and sometimes enchanted) by what they are doing. But only a select few tap the roots of my early childhood aspirations for nature conservation and environmental research. Mothing was one of them. Firefly Watch, which involved intriguing blinking beetles, was another. Now we have Marine Metre Squared (Mm2). It’s difficult to say what makes it inspiring, but I think it has something to do with the enthusiasm the project owners show, how what they are studying reflects the wonder and diversity of life, and just how far the venture has penetrated public awareness. As I write more and more about citizen science, I think of this as a trifecta. When these three intersect a touch of magic is added—something that draws participants toward a lifelong vocation.

“The project is New Zealand based, we want to know what is happening in the New Zealand intertidal zones. However, we have had international visitors complete surveys on New Zealand beaches. It’s an interesting activity and a great way for tourists to explore the New Zealand seashore,” says Tessa Mills, a manager at the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre. “The Seashore ID Guides that we produce are very helpful for anyone joining the Mm2 project—they are taken home as souvenirs by many international visitors!”

A school group makes observations in a plot.

More than 700 people have registered, consisting of a combination of schools (46%), individuals (30%), families (14%), community groups (8%) and tertiary institutions (3%). This is shared equally between the north and south island. “Although not everyone is contributing data we expect that the data submission will grow over time. And the project can be adapted for preschool groups; for example playing eye-spy in a one-meter area. And although they may not be able to identify or count all the species, they may be able to choose one species to look for and count” says Sally Carson, the director of the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre. “Similarly we have had some very knowledgeable individuals say that they have spent almost three hours counting and identifying what is in their square.” To help evaluate the quality of the data collected, the Centre is asking participants to rate the scientific accuracy of the data collected as low, medium or high. That seems to be a unique addition to citizen science—rating the quality of the data you collect is an added element of verification.

The photographic Seashore Guides (Sandy, and Muddy and Rocky) have been incredibly popular with over 140,000 copies being distributed free of charge thanks to Mobil Oil New Zealand Ltd. At first glance, muddy and sandy shores appear barren, but look beneath the surface and you will find a rich diversity of life—as the Maoris say, “Ngā tini o te waitai.” Northern and Southern versions have been compiled to highlight New Zealand’s regional differences. The guides not only feature the plants and animals that live on the shore, but also illustrate the evidence that they leave at the surface; for example, the telltale burrow and volcanic mound of the mantis shrimp. The guide encourages visitors to act as detectives, and find out what lives there without disturbing the habitat.

Sally Carson displays a square meter quadrant.

“We often compare our meter squared quadrant to binoculars. It encourages people to focus on one area and look closer. They are always amazed at what they find,” says Carson. In New Zealand, as in most parts of the world, the coastline is accessible to so many people, yet many know very little about their seashore neighbors. Mm2 hopes this project will help facilitate a global shift towards guardianship of the local environment by the communities that understand the ecosystems they live in and interact with. “While this approach has huge potential, the transition must come with the tools and education to make real community guardianship of the environment successful, and Mm2 is an effective first step in the process,” says Carson. The partnerships that are developing between schools, scientists, community groups and families are key to the success of such an approach. Sounds like fertile soil for that trifecta.

Resources:
Mm2 Guide

Photo credits: Tessa Mills (top), Kimberley Collins (middle left), Sharron Bennett (bottom right)


Ian Vorster has a MS in Environmental Communications and most recently served as director of communications at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Prior to that he worked in the health communications field. Ian has served as a designer, writer, photographer, editor and project leader in the field of science, and now works freelance in a blend of these roles. You can see more of Ian’s work at dragonflyec.com.

Citizen Science is a Shore Thing!

By July 21st, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Comment

Share jellyfish sightings, track stars during evening beach strolls, count fireflies, or report dragonfly swarms while you’re at the beach this summer. Or participate in dozens of other summertime citizen science projects and advance fields of research in the process! Why not do them all?

Hey! If you’re involved in more than one project, we’d like to hear from you. Email carolyn@scistarter.com to find out why.

 

Globe at Night
Because of light pollution, six out of 10 people in the US have never seen our Milky Way Galaxy arch across their night sky from where they live. Now you can measure the night sky from the beach and contribute to important research. Get started!

 

Dragonfly Swarm Project
Ever see a dragonfly swarm? Magical, aren’t they? Share your observations to help researchers understand where and how these aerial predators swarm. Get started!

 

Jellywatch
Have you seen a jellyfish? Report it to Jellywatch — a public database documenting ocean conditions. They are especially interested in jellyfish washing up, but also track red tides, squid and mammal strandings, as indicators of ocean health. Get started!

 

Marine Metre Squared
MM2 is an easy way to survey the intertidal community in New Zealand. Monitor a 1m x 1m square patch of your local rocky shore once every season by recording the animals and plants that live there. Get started!

 

COASST
Monitor marine resources and ecosystem health at 300 beaches across northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. Survey your beach every month and COASST will put the data together and decipher the patterns across the entire survey range. Get started!

 

SEANET
Seabird Ecological Assessment Network (SEANET) volunteers conduct beached bird surveys along the east coast of the United States in order to identify and record information about bird deaths. Help identify where bird carcass are found, and how this varies across time. Get started!

 

BEACH
The Beach Environmental Assessment, Communication, and Health project participants monitor high-risk Washington state beaches for the bacteria called “enterococci” to reduce the risk of disease for people who play in saltwater. Get started!

 

 

 


Check out “Exploring a Culture of Health,” a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

Secchi App: Tracking Phytoplankton with the Push of a Button [GUEST POST]

By June 26th, 2014 at 10:22 pm | Comments (2)

Help scientists monitor the phytoplankton population in oceans with a secchi disk and the secchi app.

Want more marine-themed citizen science projects? We’ve got you covered!

Screen shot of the secchi app

Screen shot of the secchi app

Marine ecosystems, like all ecosystems, are made of complex food webs. At the base of the marine food web are the phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are very important, as they are responsible for about half of all photosynthesis on the planet; they absorb half of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and produce half of the oxygen we breathe. Global warming and climate change are unfortunately putting phytoplankton numbers in danger, as phytoplankton populations are negatively affected by warming waters. When the water warms, it creates layers of temperature, so there is less cycling of nutrients than in more mixed waters.

To track these changes, a team of scientists led by Dr. Richard Kirby at Plymouth University, have created a mobile app called the Secchi App.  The app, along with a homemade secchi disk, can be used to measure the turbidity of the water.   These measurements give an estimate of the amount of phytoplankton in the water, and the app attaches GPS information to the data.  Users must select their GPS location first and then input the Secchi Depth. If you are far out to sea the app will  store your data until you get a network connection, when you will be prompted to submit your data to the database; you can decline until later if you are connected to a roaming network.

Testing the waters with a white secchi disk.

Testing the waters with a white secchi disk.

Using a Secchi disk is very straightforward: a 30-cm white disk is attached to a 50 meter-long fibreglass tape measure and lowered into the water until it just disappears from sight, then the depth of the disk below the surface is recorded (this is called the ‘secchi depth’). For the app, there are no restrictions on what the secchi disk can be made from, as long as it’s painted white, weighed down with a 200 gram weight or heavier depending on the disk material (it is important the disk sinks vertically), has a diameter of 30 cm, and is kept clean for maximum visibility. The ideal time to collect data is between 10 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. Users also have the option to input the temperature of the water, take a photograph, add notes, and input their boat name. These details, especially the temperature, would help scientists understand the context of the Secchi depth even more.

Dr. Kirby says this app is for “seafarers  and scientists.” [1]  Anyone with a boat, a secchi disk, and a phone can participate. Since the ocean is too large for data collection by one team, they need your help. Collecting and inputing data for the Secchi app takes less than five minutes, which gives users the opportunity to collect multiple data points in a small amount of time.

When users send their measurements to the database, scientists like Dr. Kirby can use them to accurately predict the productivity of phytoplankton in the ocean. When you use the secchi app and send your data, you are helping scientists track of the number of phytoplankton in the ocean. Their numbers affect the abundance of all organisms in the food web above them. Since phytoplankton are such an important part of the marine food web, their numbers affect the populations of many other species. Participants are helping to track phytoplankton as well as many keystone species. You could be a part of something much larger.

Editor’s Note: The bottom image has been changed to show a white marine secchi disk, which is the proper disk for this type of project. In addition, the quote from Dr. Kirby has been referenced appropriately.  We apologize for the errors.

Reference:
[1] From FAQ section.

Resources:
Plankton Pundit
How to make a Secchi disk (Page 5 of guide)

Image credits: Dr. Richard Kirby


Albany Jacobson Eckert is working toward a BS in Marine Vertebrate Biology at Stony Brook University. She hopes to conduct oceanographic research in the near future. Her blog, marinebiomondays.wordpress.com, is geared toward promoting scientific literacy and explaining concepts behind recent scientific headlines.