Citizen Science

FieldScope Translates Big Data into Action

A map showing soil type and a counts of plant species observed in various areas. Screenshot from the Project BudBurst page of FieldScope.

This is the age of big data, but once you have all of that data, what do you do with it? How do you make sense of it and where can you make it available to the public? If citizen scientists are gathering the data, how can they enter it quickly and easily?

FieldScope answers all of those questions.

It is a tool that lets citizen scientists easily enter their data and visualize it in maps or graphs. The information is published online and anyone can browse content or create their own maps based on existing data.

Many citizen science projects use FieldScope to make sense of their data, including regional water quality projects, BioBlitz projects, Project Budburst, and FrogWatch.

I’m focusing on the Chesapeake Watershed Project as an example, but I recommend browsing the projects, looking to see what maps and graphs they have already created, and trying your hand at creating your own.

Interpreting Big Data

Data on their own don’t do much good.

People need to understand the trends in data and most people comprehend data more quickly and easily in a visual display like a graph or a map.

“Most of all, FieldScope is a user-friendly platform, designed to assist the user in creating maps to visualize and analyze large sets of data,” says Elena Takaki-Moschell, Program Manager of the Chesapeake Watershed Project.

Not only that, it’s free! Any organization working with citizen scientists can contact National Geographic to create a FieldScope project.

That is a big deal! Projects can store their data online, analyze it using the visualizations, and share their project with the world – all without spending any money or re-inventing the data-visualization wheel.

A graph of water temperature and dissolved oxygen recorded in the Chesapeake Bay area. From the Chesepeake Watershed Project page on FieldScope.

FieldScope was created as an educational tool and it can build students’ interest in STEM fields and confidence in their own abilities.

“FieldScope is a great tool for educators to incorporate into their already existing curriculum. It allows students to visualize and analyze data over the long term. They can look at student collected data, volunteer collected data, or professionally collected data to make decisions about the environment in which they live,” Takaki-Moschell explains.

Beyond the value of having such a resource,  FieldScope contributes to the impacts of each project that uses it to store and visualize data.

What’s more important than understanding water quality and the connections between and within watersheds?

“For example, someone in Cooperstown, New York can see that their water will eventually make it to the Chesapeake Bay. So their local decisions have far-reaching implications for a larger population,” says Takaki-Moschell.

And I’ve already written about the importance of Project BudBurst and other projects like it.

Using FieldScope

There are many ways to use FieldScope.

Without even signing up, you can browse the data in each project and create your own maps based on that data.

If you find a project that you are interested in doing more with, sign up for FieldScope.

Then, you will be able to enter data and contribute to the project. Some projects even have a data upload app that lets you enter data directly from the field.

“I also like how FieldScope is not about sitting at a computer – it’s about getting outside, learning about your local environment through observation and data collection. What a fantastic way to see the direct changes (both seasonally and over time) that happen in your own neighborhood!” Takaki-Moschell explains.

And don’t worry if you think that you aren’t good with numbers or maps.

“One of my favorite things about working with FieldScope is seeing people with little technology skills now have the ability to work with a user-friendly GIS application. They are very proud of themselves and like the colorful visualizations that bring the data to life,” Takaki-Moschell adds.

I have only dipped my toe into making maps on FieldScope, but I found the interface very user friendly and there are plenty of video tutorials in case you hit a snag.

Whether you’re more at home behind a desk or in a forest, there is a FieldScope project that’s right for you!

Lisa Feldkamp

Lisa loves all things citizen science and enjoys learning about everything that goes on four legs, two wings or fins - she even finds six and eight-legged critters fascinating at a safe distance. She has a PhD in Classical Literature and Languages from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and enjoys reading Greek and Roman literature or talking about mythology in her spare time. More from Lisa

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