Archive for the ‘iPhone’ tag

A Picture Saves 1,000 Streams – Water Quality Monitoring on Your Smartphone

By September 9th, 2013 at 10:36 am | Comment 1

This post is part of this week’s featured projects about water quality monitoring. Take a look!

Creek Watch iphone appDespite over 70% of the Earth’s surface being covered in water, one in nine people do not have access to an improved water source.(1) Contaminated water kills more people than all wars, crimes and terrorism combined yet more people have a mobile phone than a toilet.(1,2,3) Every day, on our way to work or school or play, we encounter local water supplies, subconsciously noting their health. Could improving water quality be as simple as snapping a photo on your smart phone?

Creek Watch was developed by IBM research – Almaden, in consultation with the California Water Resources Control Board’s Clean Water Team, to empower citizen scientists to observe and monitor the health of their local watersheds. According to Christine Robson, an IBM computer scientist who helped develop Creek Watch, “Creek Watch lets the average citizen contribute to the health of their water supply – without PhDs, chemistry kits and a lot of time.”

Creek Watch ScreenshotWatersheds, land where all the water in creeks and streams drain into the same aquifer, river, lake, estuary or ocean, surround us. Conservation biologist Erick Burres of California’s Citizen Monitoring Program: The Clean Water Team explains, “Creek Watch as a learning tool introduces people to their streams and water quality concepts.”

Once the free iPhone application is downloaded, citizen scientists are asked to take a photo of their local waterway and answer three simple questions: What is the water level? (Dry? Some? Full?) What is its rate of flow? (Still? Slow? Fast?) And, how much trash is there? (None? Some? A lot?) The photo, GPS tag, and answers are then uploaded in real-time to a central database accessible to water experts around the world. Water resource managers track pollution, develop sound management strategies for one of our most valuable resources, and implement effective environmental stewardship programs.

Since its launch in November 2010, over 4000 citizen scientists in 25 countries have monitored creeks and streams, providing invaluable information to over-extended water resource managers; water quality data that would otherwise be unavailable. Watershed biologist Carol Boland is using this data to prioritize pollution cleanup efforts in San Jose, California. Similarly, local citizen scientists are comparing their observations to previous years as well as data collected around the world on the Creek Watch map to help inform local voluntary stewardship programs.

Creek Watch is increasing global awareness about watersheds and environmental protection. This is just the beginning. Future applications will allow citizens to monitor every aspect of their surroundings – from urban services to wildlife distribution, noise pollution to air quality and even global warming; in order to solve some of the biggest challenges of our day.

Join thousands of citizen scientists monitoring our planet’s water supply as you head to work, school, and play this week. Could your picture save a thousand streams?


Photo : IBM Research

Resources:
1. Estimated with data from WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation. (2012). Progress on Sanitation and Drinking-Water, 2012 Update.
2. International Telecommunication Union (ITU). (2011). The World in 2011 ICT Facts and Figures.
3. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). (2011). State of World Population 2011, People and possibilities in a world of 7 billion.

Dr. Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and writer.  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.

Proceed to the Perseids with NASA’s Meteor Counter

By August 10th, 2013 at 9:31 am | Comment

meteor

The first time I ever saw the Perseids, I was 15 years old.

I snuck out of the house in the middle of the night (without telling my parents, of course) and found the darkest spot at the park nearby. What followed was one of the most awesome sights I had witnessed up until then: hundreds of staggered streaks of light, tearing through an ink-black sky. Part of me knew it was strict science. Another part of me was convinced it was magic. Who knew that a phenomenon that happens every day could resonate so profoundly?

Every day, on average, more than 40 tons of meteoroids strike our planet.  Most are tiny specks of dust that disintegrate harmlessly high up in Earth’s atmosphere, producing a slow drizzle of “shooting stars” in the night sky. Meteors (what they’re called before they enter our atmosphere) are made of cosmic material–silicate rock, iron, and metals–left over from the early formation of our solar system.

Where do the Perseids come from?

As the Earth rotates around the sun this weekend, it will pass through the debris field of the comet Swift-Tuttle, a dirty snowball of remnants that never became planets nor stars. The comet takes about 133.2 years to orbit the sun. As it moves, a tail of gas, ice and dust is left behind it.

Each year, from mid-July to early August, the cosmic debris in this comet’s tail culminate in an evening spectacular called the Perseids.

When and How to View

This year, the meteor shower peaks late Sunday (8/11)  into early Monday (8/12) just before dawn.

Find a dark field away from any light pollution. Look for the constellation Perseus, where the Perseids derive their name. It should be observable in the northeastern sky. During a Perseid meteor shower, you can expect to observe up to 100 meteoroids in an hour.

perseid_map2

What to Bring

What’s nice about the Perseids is you don’t need any special viewing equipment. The naked eye is adequate. Grab a blanket and/or lawn chair, a cup of warm liquid, some snacks, and sit back to wait for the forthcoming light show.

NASA has a Meteor Counter app that iPhone users can download. Viewers of the Perseids can help report how many they see within a particular time frame. The app’s “piano key” interface allows you to tap keys as you view meteoroids. It records critical data for each meteor: time, magnitude, latitude, and longitude, along with optional verbal annotations. Afterward, these data are automatically uploaded to NASA researchers for analysis.

While you’re out there, you might as well turn an otherwise passive (albeit amazing) viewing experience into a participatory one in the name of citizen science.

SciStarter wishes you a happy viewing for this year’s Perseids. If it doesn’t make you feel too cheesy, make a wish when you see your first meteoroid. I know the fifteen year old in me won’t forget to.

If you live in Alabama, you can participate in the Alabama Meteor Tracking Project.


Sources:

Photos: NASA.gov

Lily Bui holds dual (non-science) bachelors’ degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. She has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. She currently works in public media at WGBH-TV and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Boston, MA. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui. 

 

 

Temperature Blast: a new mobile app for climate studies

By March 4th, 2011 at 10:03 am | Comment

iPhones, Androids phones, and other mobile devices are making it incredibly easy for citizen scientists to make observations and share their findings with researchers. Mobile apps are already aiding the study of wildlife, invasive plant species, and even acoustics, just to name a few. You could say that apps are the hottest thing in citizen science!

In spring 2011, the Maryland Science Center is set to release the hottest mobile phone app of them all — one that will allow the public to submit temperature measurements and contribute to climate change research.

I recently had a chance to chat with Felicia Savage, an informal educator with the Maryland Science Center and institutional lead for the Communicating Climate Change (C3) citizen science project. Felicia gave me a primer on C3 and an exclusive look at Temperature Blast, the soon-to-be-released citizen science app. Enjoy!

What the C3: Communicating Climate Change project all about?

Felicia: C3 a project undertaken by twelve Science Centers nationally with the shared objective of involving the public in climate change research.

Our C3 project, while not directly researching anthropogenic global warming, invites users to participate in a study of Baltimore’s Urban Heat Island. The hope here is to informally educate them on the difference between climate and weather and the real need for long-term observations to accurately model climate.

What’s the difference between an Urban Heat Island and climate change?

Felicia: An Urban Heat Island is a phenomenon classified by temperature differences between a metropolitan area and more rural landscape nearby. An Urban Heat Island is not an effect of climate change, but rather of human activity shaping the environment around us.

Part of this connection is that steps taken to reduce the Urban Heat Island also have a negative effect on the use of fossil fuels. For instance, a home with a green roof will be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter due to the evapotranspiration and insulating properties of its vegetation. This cooling effect will lower the temperature of the surrounding air in the summer and also reduce the use of energy in cooling or heating a home.

How do you decide where to make temperature measurements?

Felicia: We worked with urban climatologists at the Baltimore Ecosystem Study to decide where to make measurements by first narrowing down sites from the region’s collection of WeatherBug stations. To be considered as a possible site, stations were evaluated for tree cover, development, and location within or outside of Baltimore.

So what do citizen scientists actually DO in C3?

Felicia: Citizen scientists participating in C3 collect data for use in climate studies. With the Maryland Science Center’s project, this data will be submitted to urban climatologists at the Baltimore Ecosystem Study for use in modeling the region’s temperature patterns. Previously, this data was collected by local resident volunteers who stepped outside theirs doors once a month after sundown to measure air temperatures at their location. The development of an application was actually inspired by an experience as a citizen scientist in this former iteration. I was outside slinging a psychrometer when it came to mind to simultaneously check the air temperature reported at the nearest WeatherBug station through my new Motorola Droid. The whole idea grew from there.

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