Archive for the ‘Climate’ 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.

Stop, Collaborate and…Vote! Help solve climate change with MIT’s Climate CoLab Project

By August 28th, 2013 at 10:55 am | Comments (5)

Do you have an idea about how to approach climate change?  You’re not alone.  Thousands of other people around the world are coming up with potential solutions to one of the world’s most challenging problems, but until now they have not been able to easily connect. MIT’s Climate CoLab is attempting to change this by bringing together innovators from across the globe to collaborate and develop solutions to the problem of climate change.

The basic idea of the Climate CoLab is similar to Wikipedia or Linux in that it harnesses “micro-contributions from many people around the world,” as Laur Fisher the CoLab’s Community and Partnerships Manager describes.  To do this, the CoLab runs annual competitions, in which anyone can submit a proposal that addresses a climate change issue.  Members of the CoLab community, including general public and experts in the field, are then encouraged to provide feedback on the entries, and eventually expert judges select finalists. A second cycle of feedback then begins for the finalists to allow thorough development of the proposals, and in the end the public votes on the winners.  Fisher describes that the goal of the CoLab is to facilitate a “transparent contest.” She notes that “anyone can comment and everything is open.” This year’s competition is currently in its final round of judging, and all participants are encouraged to vote until the end of August on their favorite proposals.


Illustration of the competition process

This year, the Climate CoLab ran 18 different competitions that address different aspects of climate change – for example, there was a contest focused on hydraulic fracturing “fracking;” one was titled “urban adaptation: climate resilient cities;” and one addressed the efficiency of buildings. Proposals were submitted from around the world – from Asia, to Central and South America, and even Iceland – and the applicants came from all education levels and professions.  Fisher asserts that the CoLab needs this diversity of members “because the issue of climate change is such a global issue, but then it’s also complex – there’s no one solution.”

The winning proposals will be announced shortly after the voting ends, and the authors will be invited make presentations at the Climate CoLab’s yearly conference on November 6-7.  The conference is free for anyone to attend, and the theme this year is “Crowds and Climate,” focusing on the role crowds play in addressing climate change – an interesting topic for anyone involved in a citizen science project! At the conference, the next competitions will also be announced for those who are eager to submit a proposal.

Voting for this year’s proposals closes at midnight (EDT) on August 31. Get started!


Emily Lewis is a PhD candidate in chemistry at Tufts University, where she investigates industrially important catalysts on the nanoscale. She received her BS and MS degrees from Northeastern University, and her thesis work investigated 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,

Citizen Science: the Animated Movie

By October 12th, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Comment

There should be more animated movies about citizen science, don’t you think? Thankfully, the people at a weather-focused citizen science project called the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (known by the funny acronym CoCoRaHS) have made this video! It tells the story of how the project started and explains how people all over the country are getting involved. Watch and find out how you can become a CoCoRaHS volunteer too!

Albedo Project Results Are In!

By July 8th, 2011 at 7:43 am | Comments (9)

Turn a piece of paper into scientific data!

Turn a piece of paper into scientific data!

Did you take a photo of white paper on the ground June 21 for the Albedo Project?

Whether or not you participated, you can now take a look at the data at the Albedo Project website. Locations of all the photos are shown on a Google Map. Zoom in to find your data point. And if you’d like to peruse the photos of white paper, you can find them in Flickr.

Photos were sent in from over 30 US states and 11 countries, pointing out that projects like this would not happen without participation by photo-snapping volunteers!

This is “not bad for a first effort,” according to the web site. However, the resulting albedo calculated from the photos is not very accurate. Here’s the results summary from the Albedo Project website:

“The average albedo for all samples is 0.11 – That’s pretty low, but when you look at the images, you can see that it makes sense. Some of those photos are dark, and they were not adjusted in any manner.  (The average albedo for Earth is about 0.3)”

Why is the number so low? The photos did not provide a full representation of the Earth’s surface. About half of the photos were taken on grass, about a third were on concrete or brick, and most of the others were on soil or sand.

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