Archive for the ‘smart phone apps’ tag
This post is part of this week’s featured projects about water quality monitoring. Take a look!
Despite 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.”
Watersheds, 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
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.
The first blog post in our new series titled “Citizen Science Test Drive,” (where we present first-person reviews of citizen science apps, tools and platforms) featured reviews of three nature apps by SciStarter contributor Lisa Gardner. Today, we bring you Kate Atkins, a regular SciStarter contributor and avid birder. Here, Kate shares her list of personal, favorite apps for birding. If you would like to contribute to this series and share your experiences with our community, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The best citizen science apps for birding used to be iOS-only. I’ve known many an Android birder to switch to iPhone or buy an iPod Touch because the apps on that side of the divide were so darn good. But with Android smartphones now commanding more than half of the market, the gap is starting to close. Here’s the best of both worlds.
BirdsEye is precisely a bird-finding app, based on the citizen-driven eBird database. Want to see a specific bird? BirdsEye will show you the most recent, closest sighting and give you directions. Want to see what birds have been observed at a specific hotspot over the last 30 days? What rare or notable birds have been seen near you recently? Done and done.
While helping people find and view birds, this app also teaches newer birders which birds can be found where and when. Yes, this one is still iOS only, but an Android version is likely to materialize soon.
The Audubon Birds app recently added bird-finding functionality via eBird to their existing field guide app. Study birds at home, on the subway, or in the park, then go find and observe birds in the real world with a little help from your friends at Cornell and Audubon.
A good birder keeps field notes. A citizen scientist shares the data. Cornell’s eBird is the key crowd-sourced database, so the ability to either directly submit to eBird or to export lists in eBird format is a must-have feature for any logging app.
If you are not familiar with the project and wish to report your bird sightings using one of these apps, I strongly urge you to first create an eBird account and use it in a browser before taking the plunge with mobile data-logging.
Very simply, this app records and uploads sightings to eBird, from your fingers straight to Ithaca. I’d like to see it more deeply connected to my eBird account, but for base functionality and total simplicity, BirdLog is indispensable.
A nice option if you want the bells and whistles BirdLog lacks. This app is pre-loaded with US, Mexico and UK bird lists. Add your locations via GPS, and list for them again and again. Exports to both eBird and Google Map formats so you can easily share your adventures.
The developers have carefully crafted interactions for use in the field. Big day and group count usage is well thought-out, and as your list archive grows, the more fun it will be to study your own patterns. This app makes a compelling case to trade in your notebook for your phone.
Study & Skill-building
Before, during, and after birding, reference materials and study guides are key elements to the birding life. Most marquis field guides have wonderful app versions with extra illustrations, photos, audio files and links to web resources.
Each is a little different, so it’s worth some thought before purchasing one over another. I’m partial to the Sibley guide for its illustrations, audio files, and side-by-side bird comparison, but beginners may prefer iBird for its guided search.
- The Sibley Guide to the Birds of North America
- iBird Explorer
- Peterson Birds of North America
- National Geographic’s Handheld Birds
Birding by ear
- Nemesis Code’s Bird Codes and Band Codes apps. If you want to be a real ace in the field, these apps will teach you the 4-letter banding codes for birds. Learning these will cut your data entry time, and help you interpret bands if you see them on birds in the wild.
I use some non-birding specific apps to enhance my days in the field. If you’re as phone-fiddly as I am, and like tramping around outside, find out what my home screens hold at Birding Philly.
I love being in the outdoors amongst nature – but then who doesn’t? I also have a fascination for all things technological. Sadly, all too often these two passions are incompatible. For as us techie-lovers know, too many an hour can be spent cooped up inside staring at a computer screen.
The emergence of the smartphone now means that we can effectively carry powerful little computers around in our pockets. Programmers have sought to exploit this new technology and let citizen scientists get more involved.
Hot on the heels of MoGo and SoundAroundYou, Columbia University and the University of Maryland teamed up to create a new iPhone app called Leafsnap. Seeking to use smartphone technology to engage people in their environment, it promises to answer to that question, “I wonder what type of tree that is?,” when you don’t have anyone to ask.
Utilizing visual recognition technology and an Internet-enabled smartphone, the Leafsnap app identifies plant species with the phone’s built-in camera. I was excited by this prospect, and so tearing myself away from the laptop (iPhone in hand), I set out into the great outdoors to put Leafsnap through its paces. Here’s what I found:
Leafsnap performed well on both an iPhone and iPad; it is easy to use and boasts a wealth of great features. After “snapping” and uploading an image of a tree’s leaf, you are presented with a list of likely candidates. Bark, flower and leaf images and accompanying facts then let you work out if Leafsnap has found your tree. Your findings are saved and placed on a world map, letting you see what other people have also spotted in your area. I never knew the Yoshino Cherry tree grew in our part of the world!
At OpenSignalMaps, we’re mapping cell signal strength and wifi access points. Through our Android application, 400,000 users have submitted readings — from the remote island of Svalbard north of Norway to Ushaia, the world’s southernmost town, our maps are filling out. We’re building an impartial view of the world’s networks.
For many people, a smartphone will be their first “computer.” Smartphones are cheaper than netbooks, use less electricity, and you can make calls if you have signal. But poor signal or low network speed (another thing the mobile app measures) can make smartphones pretty dumb.
Using our Android app (the iPhone & Blackberry apps in development), we’re building a comprehensive and unbiased map of global networks. Previously, coverage maps have been provided by carriers who have their own interests to serve. We think it’s crucial to give an independent account of the carriers, and the citizen scientists who use the app are helping us determine which network is best for any geographical region.
Have you ever seen the Milky Way from where you live? Most of us have not, and it’s largely due to increased light pollution from outdoor lighting. Light pollution not only wastes billions of dollars a year in energy and money but it causes human sleep disorders and disrupts habits critical to ecology.
Globe at Night is an international star-hunting campaign that needs volunteers to record their observations of particular constellations in order to measure light pollution. This year’s campaign runs from February 21 through March 6, 2011.
Last year, citizen scientists contributed 17,800 observations and raised awareness about the issue all over the world. The project takes just a few minutes of your time to measure sky brightness and contribute those observations online. Those of you that are tech-savvy can contribute in real-time via the Globe at Night web app. Out of this world!
Contributing to Globe at Night is as easy as pie:
1. Find your latitude and longitude.
2. Find Orion by going outside an hour after sunset (about 7-10pm local time).
3. Match your nighttime sky to one of the project’s magnitude charts.
4. Report your observation.
5. Compare your observation to thousands around the world.
Be a star! Join Globe at night!