Archive for the ‘climate change’ tag

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-Maro

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.

Learn how climate change affects plant life with AMC Mountain Watch

By May 19th, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Comment 1

Track phenology events in Appalachian mountains and contribute to climate change research with Mountain Watch!

Want more spring citizen science? We’ve got you covered through April showers and May flowers.

There is nothing more rewarding than taking in the view from above tree-line. A challenging hike always seems like a distant memory after gazing upon the landscape below, especially if it’s the White Mountains of NH. Now, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) is calling on visitors of these Northeastern peaks to help them observe plant life through the Mountain Watch program. This citizen science initiative aims to investigate how the life cycles of alpine plants are affected by climate change.

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View from the Franconia Ridge Trail, one of the alpine sites on the Mountain Watch list.

To do this, Mountain Watch asks participants to record plant phenology, which is the study of how plant life cycle events, such as flowering or producing fruit, are affected by changes in environmental conditions, including temperature and precipitation. Plant life cycles are very sensitive to small variations, so even subtle changes across seasons can be observed. For example, a dry summer might cause the leaves on trees to change color earlier in the fall. When recorded over many years, these phenology records can start to uncover long term trends in the climate and help scientists to model the effects of climate change in a certain region.

Diapensia, one of the sensitive alpine flowers being monitored.

Since the AMC is based in the Northeastern portion of the Appalachian Mountains, the focus of Mountain Watch is on alpine plants that are found exclusively at high elevations in the north. The program is targeting these alpine species specifically because they have adapted to survive only in harsh, low temperature conditions and cannot thrive in warmer climates. As such, they are especially sensitive to climate change. Georgia Murray, a scientist a the AMC, describes that the Mountain Watch observations help to make up “really rich mountain data sets” that, paired with temperature observations from the Mt. Washington observatory, help to understand how climate change has affected the environment in the Northeast.

This year, the Mountain Watch program is joining an exciting new collaboration called A.T. Seasons (A.T. for Appalachian Trail), which is working to develop sites for citizen scientists to collect plant phenology data all along the Appalachian Trail. Mountain Watch joined this project to get more people involved, and as Georgia explains, to “utilize the A.T. as a north-south corridor in understanding phenology in climate change.” The goal of A.T. Seasons is to monitor the same type of plants along the whole Appalachian Trail to better understand the interplay of climate and phenology across geographical regions, as well as in relation to climate change. As alpine species only grow on the northern section of the A.T., they will not be included in this portion of the program; however, Georgia notes that Mountain Watch will still maintain the “alpine focus that is unique to the AMC and our region in the northeast” in addition to the A.T. Seasons plant list.

The incorporation of A.T. Seasons into the Mountain Watch program allows more citizen scientists to be involved, as the new initiative provides options for different levels of commitment – there is an Android app for easily making one-time measurements and more in-depth training courses for people who want to make long-term observations. The alpine flower portion of the Mountain Watch program does require more “dedicated volunteers,” as Georgia says, who can commit to regularly visiting the remote mountain sites, but there are many educational tools on the website for those who just want to learn more.

So grab those hiking boots and get outdoors! Spring and summer are the best times to observe plant phenology, and the sweeping views of the White Mountains await.

Top image: Sean O’Brien via Flickr

Bottom image: AMC Mountain Watch 


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

 

From the Redwoods Forest to the Gulf Stream Waters: Mapping Redwoods Helps Conservation Efforts

By September 16th, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Comment

This post is part of this week’s featured projects about other tree projects. Branch out into citizen science and take a look!

RedwoodsStanding 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.”

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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.

“Changing Planet” Town Hall: clean energy, green jobs

By July 20th, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Comment 1

On Tuesday, July 26 at 9pm ET, The Weather Channel will air the “Changing Planet” Town Hall focused on clean energy and green jobs. Science for Citizens is a partner in this three-part series.

Here’s more information from NBC News:

This town hall broadcast is the second in a 3-part series that brings together scientists, thought leaders and students for a discussion on the issues of climate science.

The Weather Channel announced that it will air a “Changing Planet: Clean Energy, Green Jobs, and Global Competition” on Tuesday, July 26th at 9 PM/ET. NBC News Chief Environmental Affairs Correspondent Anne Thompson moderated the event, which was hosted by George Washington University. The town hall meeting is the second in a three-part series produced under a partnership between NBC Learn (the educational arm of NBC News), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Discover magazine.

The “Changing Planet” town hall series is intended to encourage student learning and to open a dialogue about climate change by gathering scientists, thought leaders, business people, and university students to discuss the facts of climate science, understand their implications, brainstorm solutions and even get involved in real research through citizen science projects on ScienceForCitizens.net.

“Today’s technology allows us to think about new energy options that impact the planet less and help the economy more,” said Thompson. “It is critical that we have these important discussions about how clean energy and the economy can go hand in hand, in order to bring the best solutions to the spotlight.”

This edition of “Changing Planet” brings together over 100 students and features four leading experts from the science and business communities: Chris Busch, Director of Policy and Program at Apollo Alliance; Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Chief Executive Officer of Green For All; Timothy Juliani, Director of Corporate Engagement at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change; and Ken Zweibel, Director at the GW Solar Institute.

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Beyond Gloom and Doom: Young Citizen Scientists Address Climate Change

By June 30th, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Comment

How are museums getting young people involved with citizen science? Guest blogger Katie Levedahl tells the story of how her museum, the Sciencenter in Ithaca, NY, is helping kids become citizen scientists while they learn about climate change.

It is becoming more apparent that people of all ages want to learn more than just the facts about climate change—they want to know what they can DO to address this problem.

Students at Ithaca's Sciencenter built nestboxes and installed them around their school and homes. (Courtesy of Katie Levedahl)

Students at Ithaca's Sciencenter built nestboxes and installed them around their school and homes. (Courtesy of Katie Levedahl)

The Sciencenter in Ithaca, New York, has been working on projects that go beyond learning the facts about climate change, empowering children to use science to shape a better future. Sure, we still encourage kids to save energy by turning the lights off and riding their bikes whenever possible, but a recent collaboration with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) has allowed us to start exploring citizen science as an avenue of climate change education.

Three years ago we embarked on a project to engage middle school students in CLO’s NestWatch program, which contributes to our understanding of how climate change affects nesting birds. Studies have already shown that some bird species are nesting earlier in the year, which impacts important timing considerations such as food availability. With funding from the National Science Foundation, great support from scientists at CLO, and a group of middle school volunteers, we began using citizen science to explore the link between climate change and nesting birds.

After building and installing our nestboxes around school grounds and in our backyards, we waited for the birds to arrive. Within days, the middle school volunteers were observing and recording bird behavior, including adhering to NestWatch data collection protocols such as discretely sneaking up on the nestboxes. We recorded our observations on the NestWatch data sheet and entered them online into the growing continent-wide database. We also completed activities and research that helped us understand our own local ecosystem and its vulnerability to climate change.

In general, citizen science, or “regular, normal, average people helping with science” as our middle school participants would say, involves people of all ages learning how to collect data, make observations, and contribute to research projects. There are many citizen science projects with implications for understanding climate change — from monitoring frogs through FrogWatch to observing the timing of plant behavior with Project Budburst.

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