Archive for the ‘environment’ tag

Surveying Seabirds of the Puget Sound this Holiday Season.

By December 25th, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Comment

If you’re looking for more projects for the holiday season, we’ve got 12 Days of Citizen Science for you!

Counting seabirds on the Puget Sound

Counting seabirds on the Puget Sound

“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…” birds! Partridges, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, golden rings (pheasants), geese and swans inhabit this festival folk classic celebrating food and merriment. Seabirds, cousins of our dinner table counterparts, enjoy a winter migration to good eats and family too. Yet changes in climate and their relationship with man are driving population declines. Can citizen scientists help conserve our feathered friends?

The Puget Sound Seabird Survey (PSSS), in association with the Seattle Audubon Society, is enlisting citizen scientists to catalog the diversity of coastal birds along three square miles of Puget Sound saltwater habitat.

During seabird’s annual migrations, near shore saltwater habitats, such as the Puget Sound, provide valuable food and mating sites. Nearly all species of coastal birds including geese, ducks, swans, loons, grebes, cormorants, gulls, terns and alcids have experienced population declines since the late 1970s due to ecosystem changes caused by human development. Stopping to watch these graceful birds on your way to Grandma’s house can provide important population clues for local scientists.

Now in its sixth season, PSSS is the only land-based study of seabirds in the central and south Puget Sound. (Previous studies relied on aerial and marine data.) “PSSS is a scalable program that engages citizen scientists to collect significant data on valuable environmental indicators” explains Adam Sedgley, former science manager of the Seattle Audubon Society.

Identifying grebes of Puget Sound

Identifying grebes of Puget Sound

On the first Saturday of each month from October to April, citizen scientists are paired with experienced bird watchers and seabird scientists to identify all species of wintering coastal seabirds. Armed with your keen powers of observation, binoculars, compass and rulers; teams survey one of 82 sites along the Puget Sound using a method known as distance sampling. Directly counting each bird can be a challenge to new birders – species are hard to see and identify at a distance, poor weather conditions obscure views, and birds are often underwater. In distance sampling, citizen scientists simply line up a ruler with the horizon then measure the distance to the each bird in millimeters. Record the birds you’ve seen, their distance from the horizon, and compass bearing on PSSS’s interactive website. Using this data, scientists accurately estimate population size and health creating a snapshot of seabird natural history for more than 2400 acres of Puget Sound. This snapshot helps to inform conservation and oil spill clean up efforts.

Being a birder has never been easier. PSSS and the Seattle Audubon Society have developed excellent resources for citizen scientists including the stunning photographs by local photographer David Gluckman and an interactive website with information on all species of seabirds found in the Puget Sound region as well as their habitat and life histories. They also have an interactive map for you to explore each of the survey sites based on the most birds observed or most diverse areas.

Why not take a stop while you’re venturing “over the river and through the woods” this holiday season to watch the birdies?

Images: PSSS and David Gluckman


Dr. Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and communicator. Her previous work has included a Mirzayan Science and Technology Graduate Policy Fellowship at the National Academy of Sciences (2012), co-development of several of the final science policy questions with ScienceDebate.org (2012), consulting on the development of the Seattle Science Festival EXPO day (2012), contributing photographer for JF Derry’s book “Darwin in Scotland” (2010) and outreach projects to numerous to count. Not content to stay stateside, Melinda received a B.S in Microbiology from the University of Washington (2001) before moving to Edinburgh, Scotland where she received a MSc (2002) and PhD (2008) from the University of Edinburgh trying to understand how antibiotics kill bacteria. Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science; but if you can, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80, training for two half-marathons, or plotting her next epic adventure.

Exploring the Biodiversity of the Galapagos Islands As “Darwin for a Day”

By November 22nd, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Comment

Dig into even more Thanksgiving projects with your friends and family!

Endangered Galápagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeki)

Endangered Galápagos Sea Lion Zalophus wollebaeki on Isabela Island

Imagine: After months of treacherous sailing across the open ocean, skirting coral reefs and rocky shores, you alight upon lush tropical islands greeted by enticing aromas, unknown species, and a symphony of bird song…

Four years into her circumnavigation of the globe, the HMS Beagle carrying 24-year-old Charles Darwin landed in the Galápagos Islands forever changing our understanding of biodiversity and species evolution through natural selection. The Galápagos Islands are famous for their vast numbers of endangered and endemic species, rich biodiversity, and isolated Pacific location. Yet, invasive species and human development threaten their existence. Could exploring Darwin’s living laboratory be as simple as a virtual visit?

Research, as well as travel, in the Galápagos Islands is difficult due to its remote location and expense. In Darwin for a Day, a partnership between the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), Google Earth Outreach Team, Catlin Seaview Survey and the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), citizen scientists can virtually explore the best-preserved tropical archipelago in the world from the comfort of home.

What do I see? A blue-footed booby perhaps?

What do I see? A blue-footed booby perhaps?

Using innovative technology, Google Maps surveyed the Galápagos Islands and their marine environments in May 2013 to create a virtual, 360-degree experience that can be explored through the web. Grab your Darwin hat and moleskin as you select the island you wish to explore, zoom in to street view (much as you do when getting directions to your local pizza place or coffeeshop) then document the unique natural history by describing what you see – plant, animal, reptile, bird, fish. Just as real-life scientists record their data, observations can range from simple descriptions to detailed scientific names and technical information. Images and data are shared with CDF scientists and the iNaturalist community to help characterize the islands, monitor species diversity, and record changes to these delicate ecosystems.

“This is a unique opportunity to spearhead technology science for conservation and public awareness about the importance of the Galápagos ecosystems in a changing world.” according to Daniel Orellana, CDF’s head of Human Systems Research. “The outcomes of the project will allow CDF and GNPD to count on valuable information for research and the continued conservation of the Galápagos Islands.”

Since its launch in September 2013, Darwin for a Day has recorded nearly 600 observations of over 100 different species. As more citizen scientists participate, the data will be used to develop conservations strategies ranging for educational programs to responsible land management and ecotourism strategies without harming these unique ecosystems.

After feasting on turkey and pumpkin pie, why not make a date with Darwin for a Day and explore the exotic and far off wonders of the Galápagos Islands? The blue-footed booby and Galápagos sea lion send their thanks.

This project is also part of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020.

Images: Charlesjsharp & Google


Dr. Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and communicator. Her previous work has included a Mirzayan Science and Technology Graduate Policy Fellowship at the National Academy of Sciences (2012), co-development of several of the final science policy questions with ScienceDebate.org (2012), consulting on the development of the Seattle Science Festival EXPO day (2012), contributing photographer for JF Derry’s book “Darwin in Scotland” (2010) and outreach projects to numerous to count. Not content to stay stateside, Melinda received a B.S in Microbiology from the University of Washington (2001) before moving to Edinburgh, Scotland where she received a MSc (2002) and PhD (2008) from the University of Edinburgh trying to understand how antibiotics kill bacteria. Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science; but if you can, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80, training for two half-marathons, or plotting her next epic adventure.

BioBlitz: Explore the National Parks with National Geographic

By August 22nd, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Comment 1

Attention all backyard explorers and rosebush whackers: this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Your days of leading patient parents on perilous neighborhood expeditions are over. Put down that “machete.” Stop mushing the dog. Grab your merit badges. The big leagues are calling, and they want you on their next adventure!
This Friday, August 24, the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society will host their annual BioBlitz species count at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Hundreds of students and thousands of local citizens will join about 200 scientists, naturalists, and explorers from around the country to collect and analyze wildlife data, transforming the forest into a massive outdoor classroom alive with curiosity and discovery.
“I am always moved by the commitment of the National Parks Service to protecting our country’s ecological diversity and sharing it with the general public,” said Daniel Edelson, Vice President for Education at National Geographic. “The BioBlitzes are…explicit strategies for preparing young people to care for their world.”
National Geographic has been “inspiring people to care about the planet” through its magazine since 1888, but it is relatively new to the business of “preparing” them to do so. With the rapid proliferation of digital media, the society saw an opportunity to provide teachers and students with the resources to learn (curricula, films, games) and the tools to take action, thus engaging with their audience in ways never thought possible. Can’t make it to Colorado to catch bugs, spot birds, and count elk on Friday? You can take part in the action via their Google Hangout starting at 3 PM (EST), or even plan your own BioBlitz by following their instructions.
“It’s exciting to see that other people are embracing the concept and using the resources we developed to conduct their own biodiversity research in their own parks in their own communities,” said Sean O’Connor, a BioBlitz project manager.
This year’s BioBlitz, the sixth in a series of ten leading up to the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016, comes amidst the strain of another round of federal budget cuts and continued lack of funding for the program. As the National Park Service prepares to face the challenges–political, economic, environmental, or otherwise–ahead, National Geographic aims to show its next generation of steward why its 397 park encompassing ver 84 million acres of land are worth preserving.
“We believe [the most important lesson] we can teach young people is how interconnected our world is,” said Edelson. “Even in our most pristine National Parks, you can’t escape the impact of human activities on the natural environment. A BioBlitz is a chance for young people to see those impacts and learn about the connections between their own actions and the health of ecosystems.”

Attention all backyard explorers and rosebush whackers: this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Your days of leading patient parents on perilous neighborhood expeditions are over. Put down that “machete.” Stop mushing the dog. Grab your merit badges. Adventure is calling!

This Friday, August 24, the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society will host their annual BioBlitz species count at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Hundreds of students and thousands of local citizens will join about 200 scientists, naturalists, and explorers from around the country to collect and analyze wildlife data, transforming the forest into a massive outdoor classroom alive with curiosity and discovery.

“I am always moved by the commitment of the National Parks Service to protecting our country’s ecological diversity and sharing it with the general public,” said Daniel Edelson, Vice President for Education at National Geographic. “The BioBlitzes are…explicit strategies for preparing young people to care for their world.”

National Geographic has been “inspiring people to care about the planet” through its magazine since 1888, but it is relatively new to the business of “preparing” them to do so. With the rapid proliferation of digital media, the society saw an opportunity to provide teachers and students with the resources to learn (curricula, films, games) and the tools to take action through a more robust educational initiative, thus engaging with their audience in ways never thought possible. Can’t make it to Colorado to catch bugs, spot birds, and count elk on Friday? You can take part in the action via their Google Hangout starting at 3 PM (EST), or even plan your own BioBlitz by following their instructions.

“It’s exciting to see that other people are embracing the concept and using the resources we developed to conduct their own biodiversity research in their own parks in their own communities,” said Sean O’Connor, a BioBlitz project manager.

This year’s BioBlitz, the sixth in a series of ten leading up to the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016, comes amidst the strain of another round of federal budget cuts and continued lack of funding for the program. As the National Park Service prepares to face the challenges ahead—political, economic, environmental, or otherwise—National Geographic aims to show its next generation of stewards why its 397 parks encompassing ver 84 million acres of land are worth preserving.

“We believe [the most important lesson] we can teach young people is how interconnected our world is,” said Edelson. “Even in our most pristine National Parks, you can’t escape the impact of human activities on the natural environment. A BioBlitz is a chance for young people to see those impacts and learn about the connections between their own actions and the health of ecosystems.”

Spotting Fireflies for Science

By July 6th, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Comment

During the day, a firefly looks more like an ordinary beetle than a flashing light (Photo courtesy of Don Salvatore, Firefly Watch, MOS)

During the day, a firefly looks more like an ordinary beetle than a flashing light (Photo courtesy of Don Salvatore, Firefly Watch, MOS)

Ever seen little points of light buzzing around outside on summer nights? Those lights – fireflies – are beetles that create light through a chemical reaction.  By controlling the reaction, fireflies can turn on and off their lights. They flash light to communicate and find a mate.

Fireflies may be disappearing from some areas where they have been found in the past, so researchers are looking to citizen scientists for help understanding more about what is affecting fireflies.

Changes in the way we use land might be taking a toll on fireflies. For example, as natural landscapes are turned into lawns, fertilizers, pesticides and mowers may jeopardize fireflies, which spend daytime hours on the ground. Fireflies might also be affected by outdoor lights such as streetlights and the amount of water in the environment.

The Firefly Watch project gets the public involved collecting data about where fireflies are found. If you live east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and have ten minutes a week to look for fireflies in the evening, consider signing up as a volunteer.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Earth Day! Five ways to help the planet

By April 22nd, 2011 at 11:25 am | Comment

Spot Robins, Help the PlanetToday is Earth Day, a perfect excuse to get out and help the planet!

Researchers need YOUR help tracking the presence of American robins, so they can compare your observations with other environmental data, including climate and weather changes.  American robins are arriving in the Colorado Rockies 14 days earlier than they did 30 years ago and have been spotted in parts of Alaska for the first time. Because robins consume a wide variety of foods, an increase or decrease in their population may indicate (or impact) changes in other animal and plant species. It’s time for you to get involved and help the planet!

All you have to do:

1. Spot a robin
2. Record the date and location
3. Take note of its activity (what is it doing? what is it eating? is it near other birds?)
4. Share your results

This project is part the Changing Planet series, presented by the National Science Foundation, NBC News, Discover Magazine, Science For Citizens and Planet Forward. Changing Planet” is a series of three televised Town Hall meetings, hosted by Tom Brokaw of NBC News, on what climate change means. The first event, held at Yale, airs on the Weather Channel tonight at 8pm ET. We’ll also post the video here on Monday, April 25.

Here are four other awesome projects to start on Earth Day:

2011 IGES Earth Day Photo & Essay Contest for Grades 5-8 Earth Day Photo and Essay Contest: Celebrate Earth Day with middle school students (grades 5-8) across the country by taking a photograph of something changing in your local environment. Then, research and write an essay about the photograph. The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies will award a variety of prizes, including a digital camera, digital photo frame and digital photo keychain, and more. Send in your pictures by April 29, 2011!
Sound Around YouSound Around You: Help researchers build a sound map of the world as part of a study into how sounds in our everyday environment make us feel. Just use your mobile phone (or other recording device) to record 10 to 15 second clips from different sound environments, or “soundscapes” – anything from the inside of a family car to a busy shopping center. Then, upload the clips to a virtual map!
Cloned Plants Project Cloned Plants Project: Plant a lilac and contribute to a phenology monitoring project over 50 years in existence! Participants plant a lilac clone and record observations of recurring life cycle stages such as leafing and flowering on the USA National Phenology Network webpage. Observations of cloned plants help predict crop yields and bloom dates of other species, control insects and disease, and assist with monitoring the impact of global climate change.
BeeSpotterBeeSpotter: Get out there with your camera and capture some good pictures of bees! Researchers need your help better understand bee demographics in the state of Illinois. You’ll help BeeSpotter researchers establish a baseline for monitoring bee population declines and learn about bees in the process.

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