YLACES extends SciStarter grant to recruit, train, equip citizen scientists to ground-truth NASA satellite data.

By Darlene Cavalier March 29th, 2016 at 9:04 pm | Comment

 

Earn your SMAP patch!

NASA scientists are on a mission to map global soil moisture, and through SciStarter, they’re teaming up with citizen scientists to gather valuable data from the ground to complement and validate what is seen from space.

Known as the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite mission, the satellite will help scientists understand links among Earth’s water, energy and carbon cycles; reduce uncertainties in climate predictions; and enhance the ability to monitor and predict natural hazards like floods and droughts. SMAP data have additional practical applications for citizens everywhere, including improved weather forecasting and crop yield predictions.

In July 2015, Youth Learning as Citizen Environmental Scientists (YLACES)  announced a $50,000 grant to SciStarter (SciStarter.com) to recruit, train, and equip teams to measure and report soil moisture measurements at regular intervals. Measurement protocols and data handling are made available through the GLOBE Program, and data are made available to local decision-makers and used to help validate and calibrate NASA’s SMAP satellite measurements.  The grant also made it possible for teams to receive instruments needed for this project including heat lamps, digital scales and graduated cylinders.  

On mornings when SMAP flies over a team’s site, citizen scientists take soil samples from the top 5 cm (2 inches) of soil, weigh it, dry it under a heat lamp, and weigh it again. The decrease in weight is equal to the mass of water that was in the sample – its soil moisture. Measurements are simple to take and appropriate for all citizen scientists, including youth. Each participating team committed to providing ten measurements .

Now, YLACES has committed to extend this SciStarter activity with an additional grant of $30,000. Funding will expand and enhance the existing network of citizen scientists and provide additional training and equipment to measure rainfall and surface temperature. A major El Ñino is underway. By taking these additional measurements participants will join in GLOBE’s El Ñino measurement campaign.

Brian Campbell, a member of the SMAP team at NASA, emphasized the importance of the measurements that will be taken on the ground. “Having citizen scientists collect data is vital to the SMAP Mission. Their data can be compared to the SMAP satellite data and used as a source of validation. This validation will allow for a much more robust and accurate dataset, giving an optimal understanding of global soil moisture.”

How to Participate in the SMAP Project

Science enthusiasts, people who are concerned about their environment and our global water resources, teachers, athletes, families, civic groups, gardeners – anyone who will commit to taking regular soil measurements – can become part of this important research. Indicate interest by completing a brief online form.  

To get started, send an email to SMAP@SciStarter.com

 

Logging Your Local Woodland for Citizen Science: No Axe Required!

By Guest March 29th, 2016 at 8:43 am | Comment

forest-1081364_1920Follow a tree through its journey into spring! Citizen scientists can record budbursting, leafing and flowering with Track a Tree as seasons shift in the United Kingdom.

by Nina Friedman

As Citizen Science projects proliferate, so do the curious communities they create. Relationships begin between excited, everyday people as they explore their surroundings for the sake of science. But there is one United Kingdom based project that inspires the inception of a particularly odd relationship…

Track a Tree asks volunteers to visit their local woodlands, select a tree, and record seasonal events as they take place in the immediate ecosystem of the tree. Through recurring visits and focused observation volunteers become familiarized with the tree’s particularities. Maybe it’s the final Sycamore in the area to leaf. You, a volunteer, root for it to catch up with its peers, literally the parent of a late bloomer. You invest yourself in seasonal transitions, gaining insight into the life of the tree, surrounding flowers, and sometimes surrounding animals.

You become a scientist of phenology, the study of the seasonal-ecosystem interaction. Phenology observes timing variations seasonal events, and the resulting affect on plant and animal life. Recent rapid shifts in the earth’s climate make phenology evermore interesting and important. Tree’s that thrive in an April-June springtime may lose health if temperatures unexpectedly rise in March, triggering early blooming. When the Forestry Commission has access to ecological data, they can make informed decisions when harvesting and planting trees. When you have access to ecological data, you can learn about the nature that surrounds you. You can also create and play with interactive infographics.

Credit: Christine Tansey, Track a Tree

Credit: Christine Tansey, Track a Tree

Christine Tansey, the founder of Track a Tree, relayed the project’s impressive growth. “We expected a smaller, more dedicated group of participants because it requires a bit more commitment than other citizen science projects,” she says. Most ecological projects do not require multiple visits to the same location. Volunteers prove to be excited about the committing task. Since its launch in 2014, submissions include 2,000 observations spanning over 200 woodlands. Participants include school age students, families and individuals. Couples are also among the ranks. Tree tracking happens to be a great bonding activity, with the benefit of being lower commitment and lower cost than cat adoption and child rearing.

Steve Hallam (part-time tree tracker and full-time father) finds free moments to volunteer for several conservation projects in the UK. When life’s unexpected challenges arise, Steve finds routine and peace in data collection. “Gathering data on my trees forces me to stay quietly in one place for a few minutes- and it’s amazing what wildlife can make itself visible whilst this occurs,” he says. Local Nuthatches regularly make appearances while he scribbles the status of his Silver Birch.

One citizen scientist, a self-proclaimed “wayward botanist”, shares the tree tracking experience through sound. With every outing comes an audio upload.

Christine loves the unique way each volunteer approaches his or her experience. “They’re all following the outline of the project, but they’re able to individualize it and explore their own interests at the same time”. Christine aims to “give all [volunteers] the chance to hone their observation skills”. This goal is mutually beneficial. Years into her ecology research, she still notices new aspects of nature every time she goes into the field, attributing this to the volunteers fresh perspectives.

Ultimately, Track a Tree would like not only to collect data, but to educate citizen scientists. If UK woodlands are inaccessible to you visit the Track a Tree resource page to learn about tree identification. Or visit SciStarter’s Project Finder and use the “location” function to explore ecology underneath your local canopies!

Spring, Citizen Science and some Irish luck!

By Editorial Team March 22nd, 2016 at 11:59 pm | Comment

Photo: CL Goforth
Critter Tracking
With spring weather upon us, many animals are on the move. Contribute your wildlife observations to advance scientific research. Learn how, below.

Find projects from our pals in Ireland, Canada, the EU, and now, Australia through our brand new international partnership. Like citizen science, SciStarter is global.

You can find more projects via the SciStarter Project Finder.

Cheers!
The SciStarter Team

Read the rest of this entry »

PhenoCam and Season Spotter: Using Digital Photography to Educate Youth and Advance Climate Change Science

By Jonathan Brier March 18th, 2016 at 11:06 pm | Comment

Screenshot of the Season Spotter website

A screenshot from the Season Spotter project with an example of the types of questions asked of users.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? This question has engaged philosophers through the ages in discussions regarding observation and the knowledge of reality. Scientists in the PhenoCam Network are also interested in what goes on in forests when no one is around to observe them but are less interested in the presence or absence of noise as trees fall but in knowing the timing of when trees flower, leaf, or fruit. Read the rest of this entry »

Science in the Skies: Studying Clouds with CitSci

By Sharman Apt Russell March 15th, 2016 at 10:54 am | Comments (5)

Image Credit: Elroy Limmer

Image Credit: Elroy Limmer

Help NASA understand clouds by reporting your observations with the citizen science project S’Cool 

Clouds are so democratic. You don’t need to be rich or famous or smart or athletic to enjoy the majesty of clouds. You can just look up into the sky wherever you are and be knocked out by their beauty and elegance, their size and changing shapes, their relationship to light–the way clouds glow lit from behind, the way dawn edges them with a fluting of pink and sunset colors them orange and gold. Throughout the day, you can watch clouds billow and mass, flat-bottomed ships sailing and crashing, cloud architecture, cloud turrets, cloud towers, cloud streets, weird streaks, wisps, tails, cumulus, cumulonimbus, stratus, cirrus, mamma, virga. On some days, you stand transfixed under a cloudscape so continuously grand and mystical that the mind eventually loses interest. You sigh and continue on your errands. What’s for lunch? Read the rest of this entry »