Six Citizen Science Projects to Help Monitor the Environment Around You

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | October 19, 2015 7:43 am
Photo: USFWS
You can play a key role in environmental monitoring. Our editors highlight six projects, below, to help you get to know your part of the world.

Find 1,000 more opportunities to make the world a better place through science!  See SciStarter‘s Project Finder.

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Saving the Majestic Redwoods With Citizen Science

By Guest | October 15, 2015 7:10 am
California redwoods at Humboldt State Park (Image Credit: Steve Dunleavy/Flickr)

California redwoods at Humboldt State Park (Image Credit: Steve Dunleavy/Flickr)

Citizen scientists collect data to find out how climate change impacts redwoods

by Kristin Butler

“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time” John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America.

Anyone who’s ever been in a redwood forest knows the sacred experience Steinbeck described in his famous book. Even my dog Kia, on her first hike along the hooded trails of Sanborn Park near our home, bowed uncertainly at the hush of that forest’s redwoods and gazed with wonder at its canopied sky. While photos may fail to replicate the stature of these magnificent trees, they can help conservationists protect them.

Five years ago, a nonprofit in San Francisco called Save the Redwoods League (which buys, protects, and restores redwood habitat) started a citizen science projected called Redwood Watch. Volunteers in the project take photos of redwoods using an app called iNaturalist and the data they collect is helping conservationists better understand redwood distribution and take strategic measures to protect these iconic trees.

“You’d think we’d know where every redwood tree is, but we don’t,” said Deborah Zierten, Education and Interpretation Manager for the Save the Redwoods League. “This projects helps us refine our maps.” The Save the Redwoods League, which is heading into its centennial anniversary soon, will use the data from Redwood Watch to create restoration plans for the organization’s next 100 years, Zierten said.

In particular, the organization is interested in understanding how climate change may be impacting redwoods and their ecosystems and how to help the trees adapt and survive, she said. In California, Redwoods grow within a narrow 450-mile strip that hugs the coast from Big Sur to just over the Oregon border. In the winter months, the trees rely on rainfall and in summer they get the water they need by absorbing coastal fog through their needles and roots, Zierten said. This could make them vulnerable to drought and temperature changes.

Interestingly, redwoods are one of the best protections the planet has against climate change.

Old growth redwoods (trees that are over 200 years old and that survived the gold rush of logging) can take in three to five times more carbon from the atmosphere than any other force on the planet, Zierten said, making them one of the best carbon sinks. Their high branches are so dense, intertwined, and coated with decomposing needles that new trees actually take root and grow on them high above the ground. Of the original coastal redwood range, only about 5% of the old growth forest is left. In addition, 26% of redwood timberland habitat (forests that have been logged and replanted) has been lost to roads and other development.

“One of our goals is to make sure the remaining forests remain protected,” she said, against development, fire, invasive species, and other threats. The Save the Redwoods League encourages volunteers to not only photograph redwoods, but to also photograph the plants and animals that rely on old growth and newer timberland redwood forest ecosystems. These include threatened species such as the Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet; Black Bears and Pacific Salmon; the Pacific Fisher; the Marten; and plants like Huckleberry and many types of lichen.

Volunteers have already collected more than 2,000 observations and the organization plans to continue the project well into the future to preserve these awesome, silent “ambassadors from another time.”

Kristin Butler is a Bay Area journalist and Outreach and Communications Director for the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.


Add Your Big Data to the Big Picture and Support Global Sustainability

By Guest | October 10, 2015 12:24 pm
Image credit: Shutterstock/blackdogvfx)

(Image credit: Shutterstock/blackdogvfx)

It’s getting harder to track big data around the environment. To address this problem, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Eye on Earth Alliance are putting key environmental data at everyone’s fingertips on the new UNEPLive ​website.

For decades, timely access to quality data has been a problem for everyone from government agencies fighting climate change to nonprofits seeking meaningful engagement with the complex challenges of human impact on the world we share. The UN launched this big-data analysis platform to support evidence-based decision making on sustainability issues at the highest levels of government, but it’s open—wide open—to anyone. And it just might need an upload from your database. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Citizen Science, Environment
MORE ABOUT: big data

SciStarter and Astronomy Magazine Partner to Bring Citizen Science to Astronomy Enthusiasts

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | October 6, 2015 6:40 am

logo astronomyPress Release – Astronomy enthusiasts can join forces with researchers through a partnership between Astronomy magazine and SciStarter

A “citizen science” movement is sweeping the country. Now, astronomy enthusiasts who want to collaborate with leading scientists can visit to join cutting-edge research projects. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Citizen Science, Space & Physics

Simons Foundation Grant to Enable Wider Availability of SciStarter’s Project Finder

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | October 5, 2015 10:00 am

scistarter simons

The Simons Foundation just awarded a grant to SciStarter that will enable more communities, media partners, and websites to duplicate its valuable “Project Finder” feature and database of projects on their own pages. SciStarter aggregates more than 1100 citizen science projects on a single website in order to connect scientists and community leaders with anyone who wants to contribute to science. The Simons Foundation grant supports SciStarter’s creation of easy-to-use open and sharable APIs that can be implemented by other organizations.

A citizen science project can involve one person or millions of people collaborating towards a common goal. SciStarter already shares its database of projects with PBS Kids, the National Science Teachers Association, Discover Magazine and Astronomy Magazine. This grant will enable SciStarter to create open, customizable versions of the database to make it even more readily available. Read More


Citizen Science at the White House

By Caren Cooper | September 29, 2015 11:25 pm

This past Wednesday, Pope Francis visited the White House. This Wednesday, it’s my turn.

Although I won’t be welcomed by throngs of people, the under-tapped capabilities of throngs of people is the reason I’ll be there, along with two others from SciStarter: Darlene Cavalier and Hined Rafeh. In a gathering lower key than the pontiff’s, we will be joining government officials for a closer look into what citizen science can do for our country.

The event is a citizen science forum hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Domestic Policy Council. Called Open Science and Innovation: Of the People, For the People, By the People,” the forum shines a spotlight on Federal agencies taking initiative with citizen science.

Citizen science refers to people helping scientific endeavors in a non-professional capacity, such as bird watchers submitting their observations to eBird or kayakers monitoring water quality before going for a paddle. Citizen science has been emerging as a valuable tool across virtually every scientific field, including astronomy, biochemistry, marine biology, and microbiology. Throughout its growth, naysayers have questioned the ability of the public to collect reliable data. Publication after publication, new discovery after discover, and better conservation and management have demonstrated that the public not only can collect reliable data, but crowds can help bring about discoveries that professional experts cannot achieve alone. The White House event gives credence to citizen science as an essential ingredient to US leadership in the global frontiers of science.

The oldest citizen science projects in the United States are run by Federal agencies.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has relied on Daily Weather Observers in the National Weather Service since 1890. They also have volunteer Storm Spotters and recently they released mPING, an app that makes it easy for anyone with a smart phone to report the weather conditions they are experiencing.

The moment the Internet enabled online data reporting by the public, the US Geological Survey was the first to create an Internet-based citizen science project: Did You Feel It? It began in 1997 in California under the name Community Internet Intensity Maps, and has been global in its reach since 2004. People report what they feel during an earthquake, and when crowds do this, the project produces intensity maps almost instantly. For disaster management and response, citizen seismology helps the USGS with rapid detection of quakes, speedy gathering of information for emergency response, and efficiently spreading the word. During a 2009 earthquake, Did You Feel It? received over 2,500 entries in one minute. The observations are astoundingly accurate.

Observations by people are often best in combination with remote sensors and computer algorithms. For example, NASA’s SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive) Satellite Mission involves volunteers on the ground in helping to calibrate the orbiting sensors. SciStarter’s program manager, Hined Rafeh, is coordinator of the SMAP project, and a graduate student at Drexel University’s Center for Science, Technology & Society. At the White House forum, she will give a short talk about SMAP volunteer activities, which include collecting soil samples when the satellite is overhead (it passes over every three days), weighing the sample, drying it, and weighing it again.

Today over 40 US federal agencies belong to the Federal Community of Practice on Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing. These include National Park Service (Mercury in Dragonfly Larvae Project), the Federal Communications Commission (Measuring Broadband America), the National Archives (Citizen Archivist Dashboard), Environmental Protection Agency (Air Sensor Tool Box), the Bureau of Land Management (Site Stewards), and many preparing to harness the intellectual capital of the public (Department of Housing and Urban Development, National Endowment for the Arts, Department of Energy, etc.).

There are legal obstacles impeding citizen science by the Federal agencies. Laws established to protect the public and improve the efficiency of government may make it difficult for our government to collaborate on research projects with the public and issues that lack precedent arise with new technologies. For example, the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980 requires federal agencies to plan far in advance, with requests, review, and public comment periods, if they want to collect information from more than 10 people. Also, citizen science can create privacy risks and so federal agencies have to conduct privacy impact assessments according to the e-Government Act of 2002 and the Privacy Act of 1974. With mobile technologies enabling citizen science apps, federal law may necessitate agencies developing their own terms of service rather than using the terms of service drafted by private companies.

To deal with these layers of bureaucracy, as well as logistical and technological challenges, the Federal Community of Practice on Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing will soon release a Tool Kit to guide agencies in best practices.

One resource in the Tool Kit is SciStarter, a research affiliate of Arizona State University’s Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society. SciStarter helps thousands of people connect with more than a thousand citizen science projects. With new support from the National Science Foundation and the Simons Foundation, SciStarter2.0 will make customizable versions of their database available and accessible to all communities through open APIs. Citizen scientists in the SciStarter2.0 community will soon be able to easily participate in multiple projects with a single sign-in, and manage and track their data contributions on a personal dashboard.

In his speech on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday, Pope Francis said, “Humanity has the ability to work together in building our common home.” Citizen science facilitates the highest level of cooperation among people to build our common home.

Follow me to the White House event, which will be live webcast here, with live tweeting (#WHCitSci, by @WhiteHouseOSTP and me @CoopSciScoop and @SciStarter).



National Science Foundation Grant Enables Arizona State University to Develop SciStarter 2.0 to Advance Citizen Science

By Guest | September 28, 2015 9:00 am


The National Science Foundation has just awarded a $300,000 Pathways grant to Arizona State University’s Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society for the development of SciStarter 2.0. The grant will advance the growing field of citizen and community science, which enables everyday people to contribute to authentic research.

SciStarter 2.0 Creates an Identity Management System for Citizen Scientists

SciStarter, which aggregates more than 1000 citizen science projects on a single website, is a research affiliate of Arizona State University. SciStarter 2.0 will go beyond the current ability to include:

  • An identity management system and open integrated registration for participants to more easily engage in multiple citizen science projects, even across platforms and disciplines
  • GIS implementation so would-be participants can find opportunities near them
  • Ability for participants to track their projects, participation, and contributions to science
  • Participants can create privacy-protected profiles and find people and projects of interest to them

Researchers and project owners who use the open, integrated registration, GIS, and online dashboard will be able to better understand and respond to the needs and interests of citizen scientists. In the first 18 months of this project, SciStarter and ASU will partner with diverse citizen science projects to pilot and test the new tools, including: Project Budburst, CoCoRaHS, eMammal,, Dragonfly Swarm Watch, Global Community Monitoring, Your Wildlife, Wisconsin Water Quality Monitoring Network, and Globe at Night. The long-term result will be highly improved and efficient recruitment and retainment of hundreds of thousands of participants who will have the opportunity to organize and showcase their contributions, manage their data, and form new online/offline communities.

“Our goal with SciStarter 2.0 is to enhance, diversify and validate the participant’s involvement in citizen science,” said Darlene Cavalier, founder of SciStarter, Professor of Practice at Arizona State University and Principal Investigator. “In addition, SciStarter will build on existing relationships, prior research, grant-supported programs, and technologies to not only support participation in citizen science but to also provide a resource to enable inquiry into fundamental questions about why and how the public engages in participatory research.”

“We are excited about the capacity that this new project brings to ASU and to CENTSS as we move forward in promoting new ways for Americans to engage with science and research, ” added Ira Bennett, co-director of CENTSS at ASU.

SciStarter 2.0 Leadership

In addition to an external team of developers, designers and evaluators, the leadership team for SciStarter 2.0 brings significant citizen science experience to the project. The team includes:

Darlene Cavalier, founder of SciStarter and a Professor of Practice at Arizona State

University’s Consortium of Science, Policy and Outcomes.  She is also a founding partner of ECAST (Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology) working on participatory technology assessment methods to better inform science policymaking.

Dr. Caren Cooper, Director of Research Partnerships at SciStarter and co-chair of the publications committee of the Citizen Science Association and co-editor-in-chief of Citizen Science: Theory and Practice. She is the Assistant Director of the Biodiversity Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Ira Bennett, co-director of CENTSS at Arizona State University. His research is focused on bringing new types of “science meets society” content to science centers and museums. He has led an extensive collaboration between the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University (CNS-ASU) and the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISENet).

Steve Gano, Technology Director, who worked with the American Museum of Natural History where his technical and user interface designs for the museum’s web sites won many awards.


There’s a (citizen science) app for that!

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | September 25, 2015 6:52 am
The abundance of mobile technology puts citizen science at the tip of your fingers.
Our editors have chosen 5 apps to get you started. Find many more apps and a thousand more projects in theSciStarter Project Finder.


New! Now you can add citizen science events like meet ups, celebrations, citsci cafes, and more, using the SciStarter “add an event” form from the homepage! We’ll post a calendar of events soon.


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MORE ABOUT: apps, newsletter

The (Citizen) Science of Bird Banding

By Guest | September 14, 2015 11:29 pm
"PileatedWoodpeckerFeedingonTree" by Joshlaymon - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -

“Pileated Woodpecker Feeding onTree” Joshlaymon CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons

Citizen scientists in the bay area are helping conserve birds and their habitats through the San Francisco Bird Bay Observatory. Do you live in the area? Find out more about how you can participate at SciStarter.

by Kristin Butler

Have you ever been interested in bird banding? If so, the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO) has the citizen science program for you.

For over three decades, SFBBO’s mission has been to conserve birds and their habitats through science and outreach. One of our longest-running citizen science programs is our bird banding research at the Coyote Creek Field Station (CCFS) in Milpitas, California.

Tucked away from the Bay Area’s urban environment, the field station is situated near three riparian habitat restoration projects on Santa Clara Valley Water District land and is a favorite home and resting spot for many species of birds. Read More

The Search for Zombie Crabs: The 2015 Chesapeake Bay Parasite Project

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | September 7, 2015 7:00 am
This is a guest post by Monaca Noble, a biologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s Marina Invasions Laboratory. For the last 10 years, Dr. Noble has worked on issues related to the transport of marine species in ballast water and the introduced parasite Loxothylacus panopaei.
Some young volunteers help measure fish and eels. Photo by Monaca Noble.

Some young volunteers help measure fish and eels. Photo by Monaca Noble.

This June, 49 enthusiastic volunteers came out to search for zombie crabs in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Together they searched through shells from 52 crab collectors distributed throughout the Chesapeake Bay’s tributaries. Volunteers found thousands of White-fingered Mud Crabs (Rhithropanopeus harrisii), hundreds of fish (Naked Gobies, American Eels, and others), and several parasitized zombie crabs at our site on Broomes Island, MD.

What are zombie crabs? Zombie crabs are mud crabs that have been parasitized with the introduced parasitic barnacle, Loxothylacus panopaei (Loxo for short). Loxo is a parasite native to the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and parts of Florida. It parasitizes at least nine species of mud crabs (xanthid crabs) throughout this range. Read More


Citizen Science Salon

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Citizen Science Salon, brought to you by SciStarter, is where science enthusiasts can join forces with top researchers. We'll feature weekly collaborative, crowdsourced, and DIY research projects that relate to what you're reading about in Discover, so you can take science into your own hands. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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