Archive for the ‘smart phone apps’ Category
This post is part of this week’s featured projects about other tree projects. Branch out into citizen science and take a look!
Standing among Redwood trees is truly a humbling experience – driving amidst these giants of the plant kingdom, I couldn’t help imagining I had time-travelled back to Earth’s Mesozoic Era when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Yet, in the throes of climate change, even these titans are threatened as their ecosystem changes. To address this, Save the Redwoods League (SLR) has launched the Redwoods Watch project to harness the power of citizen scientists to map these trees across the globe.
By understanding the climate in which redwoods currently exist, the scientists at SLR can figure out how their habitat has been altered in the last century and predict where it will shift as a result of climate change. This is critical information for SLR, as their Science Director Dr. Emily Burns states, “If we know where the trees are, we’re going to make better decisions as we’re doing our other conservation activities.”
To participate, citizens need only to download the easy-to-use iphone app, snap a photo of the specimen, and submit the evidence. The app uses the phone’s GPS to record the location of the tree, and this info is correlated to produce a map of the redwoods. To help new users, SLR has produced a short video informational video:
Dr. Burns describes that one of the reasons for taking the citizen science approach to tree mapping is that SLR is “hoping to get folks out into corners of the redwood forest that we don’t visit frequently.” However, you can still help even if do not live near a native forest – SLR is curious about horticultural redwoods too, the data are just used differently. Whereas redwoods mapped in their natural areas help with climate modeling predictions, the redwoods mapped in horticultural settings help to understand the extremes in which the trees can exist.
So don’t worry if you’ve never stepped foot in a redwood forest. Dr. Burns asserts, “We encourage people to, when they see a redwood, let us know about it.”
Emily Lewis is a PhD candidate in chemistry at Tufts University, where she analyzes industrially important catalysts 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 post is part of this week’s featured projects about water quality monitoring. Take a look!
Despite over 70% of the Earth’s surface being covered in water, one in nine people do not have access to an improved water source.(1) Contaminated water kills more people than all wars, crimes and terrorism combined yet more people have a mobile phone than a toilet.(1,2,3) Every day, on our way to work or school or play, we encounter local water supplies, subconsciously noting their health. Could improving water quality be as simple as snapping a photo on your smart phone?
Creek Watch was developed by IBM research – Almaden, in consultation with the California Water Resources Control Board’s Clean Water Team, to empower citizen scientists to observe and monitor the health of their local watersheds. According to Christine Robson, an IBM computer scientist who helped develop Creek Watch, “Creek Watch lets the average citizen contribute to the health of their water supply – without PhDs, chemistry kits and a lot of time.”
Watersheds, land where all the water in creeks and streams drain into the same aquifer, river, lake, estuary or ocean, surround us. Conservation biologist Erick Burres of California’s Citizen Monitoring Program: The Clean Water Team explains, “Creek Watch as a learning tool introduces people to their streams and water quality concepts.”
Once the free iPhone application is downloaded, citizen scientists are asked to take a photo of their local waterway and answer three simple questions: What is the water level? (Dry? Some? Full?) What is its rate of flow? (Still? Slow? Fast?) And, how much trash is there? (None? Some? A lot?) The photo, GPS tag, and answers are then uploaded in real-time to a central database accessible to water experts around the world. Water resource managers track pollution, develop sound management strategies for one of our most valuable resources, and implement effective environmental stewardship programs.
Since its launch in November 2010, over 4000 citizen scientists in 25 countries have monitored creeks and streams, providing invaluable information to over-extended water resource managers; water quality data that would otherwise be unavailable. Watershed biologist Carol Boland is using this data to prioritize pollution cleanup efforts in San Jose, California. Similarly, local citizen scientists are comparing their observations to previous years as well as data collected around the world on the Creek Watch map to help inform local voluntary stewardship programs.
Creek Watch is increasing global awareness about watersheds and environmental protection. This is just the beginning. Future applications will allow citizens to monitor every aspect of their surroundings – from urban services to wildlife distribution, noise pollution to air quality and even global warming; in order to solve some of the biggest challenges of our day.
Join thousands of citizen scientists monitoring our planet’s water supply as you head to work, school, and play this week. Could your picture save a thousand streams?
Photo : IBM Research
1. Estimated with data from WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation. (2012). Progress on Sanitation and Drinking-Water, 2012 Update.
2. International Telecommunication Union (ITU). (2011). The World in 2011 ICT Facts and Figures.
3. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). (2011). State of World Population 2011, People and possibilities in a world of 7 billion.
Dr. Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and writer. 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.
The first time I ever saw the Perseids, I was 15 years old.
I snuck out of the house in the middle of the night (without telling my parents, of course) and found the darkest spot at the park nearby. What followed was one of the most awesome sights I had witnessed up until then: hundreds of staggered streaks of light, tearing through an ink-black sky. Part of me knew it was strict science. Another part of me was convinced it was magic. Who knew that a phenomenon that happens every day could resonate so profoundly?
Every day, on average, more than 40 tons of meteoroids strike our planet. Most are tiny specks of dust that disintegrate harmlessly high up in Earth’s atmosphere, producing a slow drizzle of “shooting stars” in the night sky. Meteors (what they’re called before they enter our atmosphere) are made of cosmic material–silicate rock, iron, and metals–left over from the early formation of our solar system.
Where do the Perseids come from?
As the Earth rotates around the sun this weekend, it will pass through the debris field of the comet Swift-Tuttle, a dirty snowball of remnants that never became planets nor stars. The comet takes about 133.2 years to orbit the sun. As it moves, a tail of gas, ice and dust is left behind it.
Each year, from mid-July to early August, the cosmic debris in this comet’s tail culminate in an evening spectacular called the Perseids.
When and How to View
This year, the meteor shower peaks late Sunday (8/11) into early Monday (8/12) just before dawn.
Find a dark field away from any light pollution. Look for the constellation Perseus, where the Perseids derive their name. It should be observable in the northeastern sky. During a Perseid meteor shower, you can expect to observe up to 100 meteoroids in an hour.
What to Bring
What’s nice about the Perseids is you don’t need any special viewing equipment. The naked eye is adequate. Grab a blanket and/or lawn chair, a cup of warm liquid, some snacks, and sit back to wait for the forthcoming light show.
NASA has a Meteor Counter app that iPhone users can download. Viewers of the Perseids can help report how many they see within a particular time frame. The app’s “piano key” interface allows you to tap keys as you view meteoroids. It records critical data for each meteor: time, magnitude, latitude, and longitude, along with optional verbal annotations. Afterward, these data are automatically uploaded to NASA researchers for analysis.
While you’re out there, you might as well turn an otherwise passive (albeit amazing) viewing experience into a participatory one in the name of citizen science.
SciStarter wishes you a happy viewing for this year’s Perseids. If it doesn’t make you feel too cheesy, make a wish when you see your first meteoroid. I know the fifteen year old in me won’t forget to.
If you live in Alabama, you can participate in the Alabama Meteor Tracking Project.
- Keefer, Marsha. “Perseids Meteor Shower to Light Up Night Sky.” Times Online. August 7, 2013. <http://www.timesonline.com/community/news/perseids-meteor-shower-to-light-up-night-sky/article_172824c3-c76c-59bf-9ea1-18c93af9cde5.html>.
- “Meteor Counter.” Scientific American Citizen Science Blog. August 7, 2013. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/citizen-science/project.cfm?id=nasa-meteor-counter>.
- “NASA Meteor Counter.” SciStarter. August 7, 2013. <http://scistarter.com/project/840-Meteor%20Counter>.
Lily Bui holds dual (non-science) bachelors’ degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. She has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. She currently works in public media at WGBH-TV and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Boston, MA. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui.
That’s right–it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for. It’s Shark Week, and SciStarter has a slew of projects for you to try out. Let’s see if you bite. Whether it’s fascination or fear, the sight of a shark makes our hearts skip a beat. Thanks to these featured citizen science projects, that sight can also contribute to shark conservation!
Increasing protection for sharks requires information about local populations. Provide data about sharks you see while diving or snorkeling.
Sevengill Shark Sightings
The Shark Observation Network invites Southern California divers to report and submit sightings of Sevengill Sharks, a species whose numbers are seemingly on the rise in the waters off San Diego.
The Great Eggcase Hunt from Shark Trust
Hunt for empty eggcases that have been washed ashore to help researchers locate potential shark and ray nurseries. This generates important data for researchers and conservationists working with sharks, skates and rays around the world.
New England Basking Shark Project
The New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance invites boaters, fishermen, and divers to report and share sightings of basking sharks to help scientists monitor the local population and better understand their migration patterns.
ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification
Upload your own shark photos or identify sharks in existing photos using this visual database of whale sharks!
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This digest of SciStarter Weekly Featured Projects was curated by Jenna Lang. If you’d like to see your project featured in our digest, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
More Gills or Eyes? The Purported Increase of Sevengill Shark Populations off the Coast of San Diego
Emerging technologies have a profound effect on how citizen scientists conduct their work. An underwater creature of ancient lineage helps to tell this modern story of technology’s importance to citizen science. Notorynchus cepedianus, the sevengill shark, of the ancient Hexanchidae family (cow sharks), features seven gill slits and a single dorsal fin, giving a prehistoric visage to this predator. Despite its uncanny appearance, this shark is one that has demonstrated little aggression toward humans, with fewer than five wild attacks accounted for since the 16th century.
In fact, divers have been increasingly encountering these creatures off the coast of San Diego. Harmless as these encounters are, they are spectacular and haunting, as Michael Bear, founder of the Sevengill Shark Tracking Project, would tell you. In the summer of 2009 he experienced the sevengill himself, after hearing rumors of its increased presence in the San Diego coastal area, when a giant seven-foot long (2.1 meters) sevengill glided between him and a dive-buddy. Describing that moment, Bear says that, “it is a humbling experience being in the presence of one of these large, apex predators––they have a grace and a majesty about them that is unforgettable.” But are these encounters an indicator of increasing sevengill populations or a product of increased numbers of divers––or perhaps divers with attentive eyes?
For many years few sightings were reported, but more anecdotal reports began to trickle in, and, Bear tells us, the “period that we really began hearing a significant increase in reports was 2009-2010.” Bear wanted to know more (and for good reason). The sevengill is a high-order or apex marine predator and therefore may be important to ecological structure, interactions, and ecosystem management (Williams et al., 2011 and 2012). In 2010 Bear’s project began to take shape.
The Sevengill Shark Tracking Project is a citizen science effort to collect baseline population data on the sevengill. Though it started out small, the project has grown, partnering with the Shark Observation Network. Now a single global database aggregates data on sightings to help determine baseline population information. Though a study of this kind can take many years, Bear’s project already has important insights for citizen science projects, especially in the use of new technologies.
Bear has developed the Sevengill Shark Tracking project’s smartphone app, called “Shark Observers.” It’s available for Android devices and allows divers to log sightings once they’ve surfaced and, presumably, dried off. While this particularly benefits sevengill tracking, the application actually allows users to submit logs for any kind of shark encounter to the Shark Observation Network database. This application can be downloaded through Google Play.
In addition to the app and database cataloguing the date, time, water temperature, and sightings––with separate databases for photographic and video recordings—the project has also started to use pattern recognition technology to identify individual sharks. This is an inexpensive alternative to costly and labor-intensive shark tagging.
With the I3S pattern recognition algorithm, which is also used for mapping star patterns on Whale Sharks, the sevengill project uses collected high definition photos to track individual sharks by their “freckling” pattern. Using the algorithm, Bear is able to identify the unique patterning on individual sevengill sharks. Eight individuals have been identified and tracked using this method, allowing Bear and other researchers to track the return of these sharks each year. What is crucial for this approach, Bear tells us, “is to have high resolution photographs where the freckling pattern is visible.” While crucial, this technological demand is not a significant barrier for most of the diver-citizen scientists, says Bear, since “most divers these days are using hi def cameras anyway.”
Since the motivation for Bear’s project was to determine baseline populations, knowing more about the number of sharks that are present and returning to the area becomes crucial. Tracking individuals helps to sort out the matter of whether the population of sharks or the population of divers (and therefore reported sightings) is increasing. Securing more data is essential to draw reasonable conclusions about these populations and so the Sevengill Shark Sightings project continues to collect sightings, including those with video and photographic data, submitted by divers in the San Diego area. Specifically, Bear’s project is interested in the population data over a 5- to 10-year period, asking whether the population density appears to stay relatively static or if there are notable changes.
In addition to these research interests, science education is built into this citizen science model. Bear hopes to train local divers in identification techniques for the sevengill shark. The Sevengill Shark Sighting project provides an interesting example of how technology can help citizen scientist organize anecdotal data into important scientific datasets.
Ashley Rose Kelly is a Ph.D. candidate in the Communication, Rhetoric, & Digital Media program at North Carolina State University. Ashley studies how emerging technologies may be changing science communication. She also teaches scientific and technical writing courses as well as an introductory course on science, technology, and society. You can find Ashley on Twitter as: @ashleyrkelly”
(1) Michael Bear is Science Diving Editor for California Diver Magazine and Contributor to Marine Science Today. He lives and works in San Diego, California.
Williams, GD, Andrews, KS, Farrer, DA, Bargmann, GG, and Levin, PS. (2011). Occurrence and biological characteristics of broadnose sevengill sharks (Notorynchus cepedianus) in Pacific Northwest coastal estuaries. Environmental Biology of Fishes 91: 379–388. doi: 10.1007/s10641-011-9797-z.
Williams GD, Andrews KS, Katz SL, Moser ML, Tolimieri N, Farrer DA, Levin PS. (2012).
Scale and pattern of broadnose sevengill shark Notorynchus cepedianus movement in
estuarine embayments. Journal of Fish Biology 80(5): 1380–1400. doi:
Photo: Michael Bear; photo credit Kelli Shaw, 2011.