Archive for the ‘Camera’ Category

What is killing California’s trees, and what can you do about it?

By January 12th, 2015 at 9:00 am | Comment

(Eskalen Lab. UC-Riverside, Reproduced with permission)

Trees infested by the polyphagus shothole borer in California (Eskalen Lab. UC-Riverside, Reproduced with permission)

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the author’s blog. Project SCARAB is one of more than 800 great citizen science projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to find one that you can participate in!

The great thing about living in a major port city such as Los Angeles is having access to ideas and goods from the around the world. However, the port of LA, and by extension every trade conduit branching off from there, takes the chance on cargo containers carrying an invasive species. In 2003 one such species, the polyphagus shothole borer (PSHB), was spotted in Whittier, a suburb of Los Angeles. In the intervening decade it has quickly spread to many of the trees in southern California. Read the rest of this entry »

Waiting for a butterfly to flutter by with the Los Angeles Butterfly Survey

By July 20th, 2014 at 11:01 am | Comment

Live in Los Angeles county? Photograph butterflies and moths, and help scientists study climate change.

Interested in more moth and butterfly citizen science projects?  We’ve got you covered!


Hyalophora cecropia [1]

Once I read a story about a butterfly in the subway, and today, I saw one…” [2]

In the heat of summer monsoons, butterflies accompany the paddling turtles in the lake outside my window… butterfly? Wait a minute; I remember dragonflies, not butterflies, from childhood. Nightly news reports every evening that our fragile blue marble is undergoing significant changes. Could butterflies and moths help scientists understand how living organisms adapt to climate change?

More than 174,000 species of butterflies and moths, the Lepidoptera, or scaly-winged insects, have been cataloged, making them some of the most successful insects to flutter across our planet. Vital to local ecosystems, butterflies and moths are important food sources and pollinators, only differing in their coloration (bold colors vs. drab monochrome) and diurnal/nocturnal range. Yet, only 236 species of butterfly have been observed in Los Angeles County.

Citizen scientists monitoring monarchs on milkweek in Los Angeles. [3]

Citizen scientists monitoring monarchs on milkweek in Los Angeles. [3]

The Los Angeles Butterfly Survey, a partnership between the all-volunteer Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA) and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, is working with citizen scientists to count and photographically catalogue the butterflies, and moths, found between the urban skyscrapers of southern California.

Becoming a butterfly, or moth, hunter has never been easier. Citizen scientists simply photograph, noting the date, time, and location, of their winged sighting. The photo and observations are then uploaded to the BAMONA website, where experts identify/verify the species before adding the find to their database. The data is used to develop a visual database and life history page for each species including stunning, user-submitted, photographs and maps reflecting recent sightings.

Kelly Lotts, co-founder of BAMONA, notes, “It is very easy for kids to grab cameras and to take photographs of species found where they live or at their school… Kids really enjoy being able to point to their dot on the map, to their actual photograph.”

Hyalophora cecropia, normally found east of the Rocky Mountains, spotted in California.[4]

Hyalophora cecropia, normally found east of the Rocky Mountains, spotted in California.[4]

Since its launch in 2011, the Los Angeles Butterfly Survey has become an invaluable tool encouraging city dwellers to become scientists for the day. Over 628,000 butterfly and moth sightings have been recorded across all of North America; 1320 for southern California. Lotts goes on to explain, “We get a lot of data requests from scientists looking at butterflies as indicators of climate change… in 2011 and 2012, in California, there was a sighting of Hyalophora cecropia each year. This is very unusual as the Cecropia is found in the east of the Rocky Mountains.”

Citizen scientists benefit from their involvement as well. At the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, they are mapping local species in order to inform planting in the pollinator garden. New projects are sprouting up including the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project. According to Lila Higgins, Manager of Citizen Science for the museum, “Citizen scientist are already getting so much out of their experience. They are thinking like scientists – making predictions about what they are going to find in the coming weeks. Talk about science in action.”

Why not grab a camera and enjoy the summer sun while waiting for a butterfly to flutter by?

References and Resources:

[1] Image courtesy Tony Maro (BAMONA submission).
[2] Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail
[3] Image courtesy Wendy Caldwell (Museum of Natural History, Los Angeles).
[4] Data courtesy BAMONA website.

Dr Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and communicator dedicated to sharing the inspiring stories of life science and helping the general public explore their world. She holds a PhD from the University of Edinburgh for research into how antibiotics kill bacteria, was a policy fellow at the National Academy of Sciences, and is a published photographer. Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science.  Not content to stay in one place for very long, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80, plotting her next epic adventure, or training for the next half marathon.

A Picture Saves 1,000 Streams – Water Quality Monitoring on Your Smartphone

By September 9th, 2013 at 10:36 am | Comment 1

This post is part of this week’s featured projects about water quality monitoring. Take a look!

Creek Watch iphone appDespite 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.”

Creek Watch ScreenshotWatersheds, 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 (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.

Browse the Encyclopedia of Life

By August 26th, 2013 at 11:27 am | Comment

This project is featured in our Back to School 2013 round-up

Imagine what it would mean if our knowledge about the many life forms on Earth – of animals, plants, fungi, protists, and bacteria – could be gathered together and made available to everyone – anywhere – at a moment’s notice.  Currently, this information is scattered around the world in books, journals, databases, websites, specimen collections, and in the minds of people everywhere, making it hard to manage, organize, and access. Here’s where you, the citizen scientist, can help.

The Encyclopedia of Life is an online, collaborative project where you can learn about any species on Earth, as well as contribute information and submit photos. This global initiative seeks to create an “infinitely expandable” resource for all of our planet’s 1.9 million known species.

The Encyclopedia draws from existing databases, such as AmphibiaWebMushroom Observer, and sponsorship from a number of leading scientific organizations. The scientific community and general public can contribute to this growing body of knowledge. Here’s how you can participate:

Go to and click on “create an account.” This is free and lets you customize your experience on our site. Then visit the “Discover” tab to find various ways to contribute to the project. You can join the EOL Flickr group to contribute photos, and you can add text directly to any taxon page. If you are not a professional biologist, one of EOL’s curators will visit your content to verify its accuracy. You will be personally credited for all your contributions to EOL.

In the classroom, this project could be a robust resource for teachers and students alike. Among other helpful tools, the Encyclopedia of Life enables teachers to create “collections” of articles or photos that are relevant to their curricula. Students can use the Encyclopedia as a reference or supplement for projects and assignments.

Whether you’re in the classroom looking up species or out in the field snapping photos, you can take advantage of the resources that the Encyclopedia of Life has to offer. Take a look around and let the sheer diversity of life on Earth fill you with curiosity and awe.

What is the Encyclopedia of Life? from Encyclopedia of Life on Vimeo.

Photo: Wikipedia

Lily Bui holds dual 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.

Celebrate Shark Week with Some Citizen Science

By August 16th, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Comment

You might not realize it, but it’s always out there. Planning. Growing. Waiting for the perfect time to strike. You never quite know when it will happen. Maybe July. Maybe August. But you know it’s coming, and you can’t escape it. In an awesome display of speed and power, it bursts from an otherwise calm summer sea and takes over. Terrifying though it is, you just can’t look away.

I’m talking, of course, about the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, the seven-day marathon of programming celebrating the world’s most feared—and revered—predator. Now, in the midst of it’s 25th year of sidelining would-be beach-goers, Shark Week enjoys ratings (drawing in 3.3 million viewers in its first hour in 2011) previously reserved for major television events and pop culture phenomena like the Super Bowl or American Idol.

Scientists, meanwhile, are hard at work studying these creatures, and they need your help! I know you’re thinking, and don’t worry.
We saw Jaws too. But did you know that several of the over 400 species of sharks, including the iconic Great White, are endangered or vulnerable due to commercial fishing and shark finning?

Courtesy of ECOCEAN.

Courtesy of ECOCEAN.

Here’s a few citizen science projects from around the world enlisting the help of divers, fishermen and boaters to contribute data for scientific study or conservation purposes. Happy Shark Week!

Shark Trust

Shark Trust invites everyone, especially recreational divers, to report their shark sightings and send in photos for inclusion in their global database used by scientists and conservationists to track and manage sustainable shark populations around the world. Shark Trust ensures the security of its data and safeguards local populations by listing only the region of the sighting, never the exact location, lest it be misused by hunters or fishermen.

Sevengill Shark Sightings

According to Michael Bear of California Diver Magazine, divers in the waters off San Diego suddenly began reporting sevengill sightings in 2009. “So little is known about them and their [migration] habits,” said Bear, “[so I wanted to find out why] they began appearing and congregating in a specific spot.” Through his partnership with the Shark Observation Network, the Sevengill Shark Sightings data will contribute to a global database available to researchers and the general public. Bear also founded Citizen Scientists of the Ocean on Facebook, whose relatively modest (but active) membership includes “Her Deepness,” oceanographer and explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle. Like it!

New England Basking Shark Project

Photo by Matt Dube. Courtesy of Carol Carson.

Photo by Matt Dube. Courtesy of Carol Carson.

Spot a fin and email it in! The Basking Shark Project from the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance invites fisherman, whale watchers, and boaters to report their sightings of the basking shark, one of the world’s largest fish at 39 feet long, second in size to only the whale shark. Their triangular dorsal fin often breaches the surface when they feed—a chilling image from an all-but-harmless beast. They’re filter feeders! Your data will help scientists better understand their local population size and distribution patterns.

ECOCEAN’s Whale Shark Photo-Identification Project

If you’re lucky enough to spot or swim alongside one of these rare, majestic (and endangered) creatures, snap a photo and send it to ECOCEAN’s Whale Shark Photo-identification Library. Using the same algorithm that NASA astronomers use to analyze star patterns and thus compare photos of the night sky to guide telescopes, scientists can identify and track individual whale sharks by the unique spot patterns on their backs. According to Wired, the approach is not limited to whale sharks, having been adapted for tracking polar bears by their whisker patterns and humpback whales by the shape of their fins, and could revolutionize wildlife tagging and tracking as we know it.

Why Sharks Matter

If you find yourself in Charleston, SC, you can help David Shiffman from Southern Fried Science and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources capture, tag, and release their resident shark species. At least you’ll be on a boat. Anyone can volunteer, but beware of seasickness!