Archive for the ‘climate change’ tag

iSeeChange: documenting the weather around us

By May 9th, 2015 at 9:53 am | Comment

April in Redlands Mesa. Source: iSeeChange

April in Redlands Mesa. Source: iSeeChange

From shoveling the third heavy snowfall of winter to spotting the first crocus of spring, each day without fail we experience our environment. Meaning each of us is a potential wealth of information about our local environment. Information that if gathered could inform climate scientists about the local effects and potential indicators of climate change. This is the premise of iSeeChange, a crowdsourced journal of community submitted local weather and environment observations.

The variability of weather and environmental conditions is an inherent challenge in climate science. Is the current drought in California a result of climate change or just an extreme version of the state’s periodic droughts? Was the devastation of Hurricane Sandy a fluke event or foreshadowing of a future trend?

To address this variability, climate scientists collect and average data across large spans of time and space. But managing data this way poses its own issues. “Climate science has a difficult time drilling down and being relevant to everyday people making every day decisions,” says Julia Kumari Drapkin creator of iSeeChange. “We designed iSeeChange to bridge the gap between the big data that the scientists collect and the local experiences of individuals and communities. The project allows people to reach their hands up and meet the big data half way overcoming this problem of scale.”

Listen to farmers discuss the iSeeChange project. Source: iSeeChange.

Listen to farmers discuss the iSeeChange project. Source: iSeeChange.

Since its creation in 2012, iSeeChange has grown from a local weather almanac in Colorado to a nationwide environmental reporting network. Anyone can become a member and submit observations on the website. Viewers can sort through the data by date or season, refining their search through metrics such as humidity, precipitation or cloud cover. Ideally members submit data on a weekly basis but in reality participation can range from a single backyard photo to religiously gathered measurements. One iSeeChange member uploaded observations made in a journal kept by a Dust Bowl era fruit farmer, noted Julia.

But beyond a data repository, the purpose of the project is to encourage conversation between scientists, journalists and individuals. “We want people to be curious, ask questions about what they see and experience. Then scientists and journalists in our network try to answer those questions,” says Drapkin. “The posts help scientists and journalist as well. Member submissions call attention to interesting or unusual events, which get picked up by journalists, transforming a few individual’s observations into a larger story.”

And these stories will become informative climate data for the future. Already researchers are expressing interest in the data. The project’s growth and collaborations with scientific partners at NASA, UC Berkeley and Yale is setting the stage for a larger impact. Due out in summer, iSeeChange co-developed an app with NASA that will ping community members to send in local observations whenever satellites are overhead. “The app will allow for real time comparisons between what the satellite sees and what is happening on a local level,” explains Drapkin. “We will learn what the impacts are and why it matters. We will be able to take the quantitative data and match it to the qualitative data and see how they compare over time.”

Ultimately iSeeChange is about empowering individuals and communities to document and investigate their environment. “People are experts of their own backyards. The granular changes they observe add up to bigger picture changes,” says Drapkin. “Already, these community observations have given scientists and journalist new insights and heads up on environmental trends.”

iSeeChange_logo  If you collect data about your local environment, want to share an interesting change you have notice or have a question you, visit iSeeChange and become part of a large scale effort to document your environment. To learn more about iSeeChange view their trailer.

Is Climate Change Causing the Seasons to Change? Citizen Scientists in the UK Help Find Out with Nature’s Calendar

By March 31st, 2015 at 5:00 am | Comment

A Seven spot ladybird (Image Credit: Richard Bekker)

A Seven spot ladybird (Image Credit: Richard Bekker)

Interested in more spring themed citizen science projects? Check out the ones the SciStarter team has handpicked for you here! Or use SciStarter’s project finder to find one that piques your curiosity!


In 1998 Tim Sparks, a research biologist at Britain’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Cambridge started a pilot project designed to record the first blush of spring. Sparks saw the importance of continuous phenology records—a record of when plants start to bud and flower, and wanted to revive a phenology network in the UK. Shortly thereafter The Woodland Trust (the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity) joined forces with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to promote the scheme to a wider audience, which is how the citizen science project Nature’s Calendar was born. 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!

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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 | Comments (5)

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.