Wisconsin’s Water Action Volunteers – Making Waves for Action [GUEST POST]

By Rae Moore - Editor September 22nd, 2014 at 9:39 pm | Comment

Monitor the quality and quantity of Wisconsin’s streams with Water Action Volunteers.

Interested in water monitoring projects? We’ve got you covered!

 

A Water Action Volunteer checking a local stream.

A Water Action Volunteer checking a local stream.

Human uses of the land impact the quality and quantity of waters in local streams, which in turn, can affect our recreational activities such as fishing, boating and swimming, and our drinking water quality. If we understand where, how and to what extent our streams are impacted, we can take steps to protect and improve them.

Citizen scientists in Wisconsin’s Water Action Volunteers (WAV) program assess the quality and quantity of water in their local streams. Their monitoring helps natural resource professionals understand the extent of non-point pollution in the state. Non-point pollution comes from sources across the landscape and is the primary source of pollution in Wisconsin’s (and our nation’s) waters. It includes sediment and nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which enter streams from agricultural and urban lands. Volunteer monitors also help track streamflow over time, since urban and agricultural land uses can significantly increase or decrease flows. For example, in urban areas, increased impervious surfaces result in less infiltration of rainwater into the ground and change baseflows and stormwater runoff. Also, where there is groundwater pumping, streamflow can be drastically reduced, which can endanger fish and other aquatic life.

WAV, sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and the University of Wisconsin-Extension, has three levels of participation: Introductory; Status and Trends; and Special Projects Monitoring. Anyone interested in learning more about his or her local stream is encouraged to participate. Although methods are targeted towards adults and middle and high school students, younger children can participate in many of the activities with assistance. Everyone must begin with introductory monitoring unless they have previous experience. Each spring, trainings are held in various locations in Wisconsin for new volunteers to learn monitoring methods. The time commitment is one hour per month from May through October for Introductory and Status and Trends monitoring, while the time commitment varies for adults who participate in Special Project Monitoring. Some Special Project volunteers monitor for just a few minutes per month to assess phosphorus. Others monitor year around, sometimes several times per month, to assess impacts of road salting on streams. Those interested in joining WAV can visit the program website to find contacts and a calendar of upcoming events.

Read the rest of this entry »

Your Citizen Science Idea Could Fly to Mars and Win You $20,000 from NASA!

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) September 22nd, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Comment

mars balance challenge

Rack your brains for a chance to win cash from NASA (Image Credit: NASA)

Buckle up folks, ‘cause NASA is coming to you with a challenge. On Saturday, NASA announced at the World Maker Faire in New York that it has opened up registration for the ‘Mars Balance Mass Challenge’. The space agency has had a history of engaging citizen scientists through online crowdsourcing initiatives such as Target Asteroids!, Planet Mappers and Be a Martian and on the ground challenges such as its annual Sample Return Robot Challenge. In August this year, they partnered with ECAST (Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology) for the ‘Informing NASA’s Asteroid Initiative’ which invites the public to discuss and comment on how NASA is tackling asteroid exploration, potential asteroid threats and planetary defense.

So what is the Mars Balance Mass challenge all about? The exploration of Mars is one of the agency’s major projects. Since its inception, the Mars Exploration Program (MEP) has conducted extensive studies in an effort to understand its climate, natural resources and importantly the possibility of life on Mars. In one such mission in 2012, NASA landed the robotic space probe Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) on the surface of Mars. To accurately land at a predetermined site the probe used a precision guided system which included two ejectable ‘balance masses’ made of tungsten weighing 150 kg (approximately 330 lb) each. The first balance mass comprising of two 165-pound weights was ejected before entering the atmosphere of Mars to offset the spacecraft’s center of gravity during entry. The second balance mass, made up of six 55-pound weights was expelled after atmospheric entry and rebalanced the center of gravity of the craft just before the parachute was deployed 1,2. (You can even see images of the impact craters created by these balance weights on the surface of Mars. Pretty cool huh?)

Positioning of the ejectable tungsten balance weights on the MSL. Two blue lines represen the 150 lb balance masses ejected before entry and six 55 lb masses ejected after entry are represented by the blue circles. (Image Credit: NASA2)

Positioning of the ejectable tungsten balance weights on the MSL. Two blue lines represen the 150 lb balance masses ejected before entry and six 55 lb masses ejected after entry are represented by the blue circles. (Image Credit: NASA2)

So how does this relate to the challenge? In the 2012 mission, these balance masses were simply tungsten dead weights. For the challenge, the question that NASA wants your help to answer is

“If you had up to 150 kg of ejectable mass prior to entry and another 150 kg during the entry and landing phase of a Mars mission, what could you do with it that was useful and advances knowledge in a scientific or technological way?”

In other words, by replacing the balance masses in future missions with a useful payload, NASA is hoping to kill two birds with one stone. Perform the function of the balance masses and acquire additional knowledge. Partnering with Innocentive Inc., NASA is offering a prize of $20,000 to the winning proposal. According to their website, this is a “Theoretical Challenge” which means that citizen scientists need only to submit a written proposal, though “ideas, drawings, and detailed procedures are required.”

In an official press release by NASA, Lisa May, lead program executive for NASA’s Mars exploration program said, “We want people to get involved in our journey to Mars. This challenge is a creative way to bring innovative ideas into our planning process, and perhaps help NASA find another way to pack more science and technology into a mission.” The challenge already has garnered significant interest with 215 226 active participants and counting (at the time of writing) within only two days since it was opened to the public. Participation can be on an individual basis or a team effort. For teams, Innocentive offers online workspaces known as Team Project Rooms to collaborate efficiently and document the process.

The Mars Balance Challenge is part of the launch of a larger initiative known as NASA Solve, an online platform which lists all the opportunities available to the general public. These challenges are ones that NASA needs the help of citizen scientists in solving. “NASA is committed to engaging the public, and specifically the maker community through innovative activities like the Mars Balance Mass Challenge, and NASA Solve is a great way for members of the public, makers and other citizen scientists to see all NASA challenges and prizes in one location,” said NASA Chief Technologist David Miller in the press release.

Ideas for the Mars Balance Mass Challenge are not limited to any specific discipline so the (Mars) sky is the limit. Fire up your imaginations, hone your google search skills and start cracking!

***

Interested in citizen science projects from NASA? Search for them using the project finder on SciStarter!

Sources

1. Harwood, William “Curiosity relies on untried ‘sky crane’ for Mars descent” CBS News 30 July 2012 (Link)
2. Brugarolas Paul B.,  Miguel San Martin A. and Wong Edward C. “The RCS 3-axis attitude control system for the exo-atmospheric and guided entry phases of the Mars Science Laboratory” NASA.gov (Link to PDF)

Editors Note: This post was also published on the Discover Magazine Citizen Science Salon blog and the PLoS CitizenSci blog.

Categories: Astronomy & Space

Tags:

Citizen Science and Water Monitoring: How Healthy is the Water Near You?

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) September 17th, 2014 at 3:59 pm | Comment 1

On September 18th of each year, the World Water Monitoring Challenge (WWMC) encourages people around the world to test the quality of the water near them, share their findings, and become inspired to protect one of the most important (if not the most important) resource on our planet.

In celebration of the WWMC, our editors are floating a handful of water projects by you in our latest newsletter!

 

watermonitoringday

World Water Monitoring Day

Use a DIY kit to sample your local water body for basic water quality parameters: temperature, acidity (pH), clarity (turbidity), and dissolved oxygen. Create world map of the health of water bodies in the process. Get started!

  Read the rest of this entry »

Categories: Citizen Science

Citizen Science 2015 meeting: proposal deadline approaching

By Carolyn Graybeal September 12th, 2014 at 5:38 pm | Comment

Cit Sci Poster

Mark your calendars for Citizen Science 2015, the first meeting of the Citizen Science Association (CSA). The meeting will take place on February 11th-12th in San Jose California, a pre-conference to AAAS’s annual meeting. The two-day event will focus on “building connections and exchanging ideas across a wide spectrum of disciplines and experiences”. Anyone interested or involved in citizen science is encouraged to attend. This includes researchers, project organizers, educators, and citizen science participants to name a few. A range of disciplines is expected to be represented.

CSA ‘s mission is to advance “understanding, value and participation in citizen science”. To this end, CSA is working on establishing a global community of citizen science practitioners to help bolster support, awareness and improve the field of citizen science. Citizen Science 2015 will focus on six themes relating to these goals.

The themes as listed on their website:

  1. Tackling grand challenges and everyday problems with citizen science.
  2. Broadening engagement to foster diversity and inclusion.
  3. Making education and lifelong learning connections.
  4. Digital opportunities and challenges in citizen science.
  5. Research on evaluation of the citizen science experience.
  6. Best practices for designing, implementing and managing citizen science projects and programs.

Detailed descriptions of each theme are available on the conference website.

The meeting will include both formal and informal presentations including key note talks, panel discussions, posters, speed talks and story telling sessions. There will be organized networking, mentoring and social gatherings giving attendees ample opportunity to exchange ideas and perspectives, and make valuable connections.

Organizers are accepting proposals for presentations and are eager to have diverse points of views represented. Individuals are limited to one submission for a talk, poster, speed talk or story session and one submission for a symposium or panel discussion. Submission guidelines and the online form are available here. Submissions are due by September 15th.

If you do not have an idea for a presentation, you can help by being a proposal reviewer. Reviewers would need to commit just a few hours from mid to late September to review a selection of the submitted 300-word proposals. Details and contact information are provided here.

As for the conference itself, registration information will be posted on their website or you can join CSA to receive directly conference updates. CSA membership is free and as inaugural members you will have the unique opportunity to shape the priorities and goals of this developing organization.

You can download the official conference flyer here to help spread the word.

CSA is accepting donations to help support the Citizen Science 2015. Make a donation through their website or learn about other ways to support.

Categories: Citizen Science

Citizen Science in the Classrom: Mapping Mars and Be a Martian with NASA

By Karen McDonald September 9th, 2014 at 8:04 pm | Comment

Editor’s Note: This post has been republished and shared in celebration of SciStarter’s Back To School campaign where you will find 10 citizen science projects aligned with Next Generation Science Standards.

 

Students Explore the Surface of Mars and Contribute to Citizen Science From Their Classroom

Mars Rover main page

Grades:

1st -12th

Description:

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is asking for help in processing data collected on Mars, in the form of pictures taken by the Mars Rovers, Spirit and Curiosity. On the “Be a Martian” home page there is a dashboard where teachers or students may create an account with a Martian profile, complete with choosing your alien. Each action, associated with a profile, is given points or virtual badges for participating. Creating a profile is not necessary, you may also participate as a “Martian tourist.”  After registering (or not) you will be taken to their Citizenship Hall, which has links for pages with polling, a “theater” with video clips about the rovers, the ability to create a post card to send to the rover Spirit, and an Atlas with geographic information about Mars. Accessed from the Citizenship Hall is the, the second major page of their website, the “Map Room.”  In the map room there is an introductory video about the program and students have the opportunity to try their hands at three types of Martian mapping. These include aligning photos to match topographic images, counting craters, and tagging physical features of the landscape.

Materials You’ll Need:

  • Computer or computers with internet access.
  • Projector or smart board may be useful for working as a class.
  • Color printer

Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:

  • This project can be done in any setting, rural or urban.
  • No special tools are required outside of a computer with internet access.
  • Students gain a “sense of place” through learning about space and other planets.
  • NASA provides a great deal of supporting curriculum, hand-outs, posters, and multi-media resources.

Read the rest of this entry »