“For years you’ve watched science programs on public television, now you’re invited to do science.” – Waleed Abdalati, host of The Crowd & The Cloud, former NASA Chief Scientist
Nature needs you … to do science. You don’t need to change your job or get a degree. Thousands of citizen science programs around the world are training people of all ages and from all walks of life to collect data. Projects pair citizens on the ground with scientists who know how to use the data.
The Crowd & The Cloud is a four-part documentary series currently running on PBS that showcases what people like you can contribute to science. The fourth episode titled Citizens4Earth, focusing on environmental projects, airs tonight. Find it on your local channel tonight or watch it online any time to learn more about projects that are making an impact for conservation science.
As the series shows, citizen science speeds advances to scientific knowledge and discovery by gathering data more quickly and across a wider ranging area than scientists could do alone. At the same time citizen scientists benefit by learning new skills and contributing to projects that they care about.
Whatever your passions or your preferences, there is a project out there for you. Some projects are local with boots on the ground, some can be done entirely online, and many more combine some field work with some online data entry. There are projects to study cyclones, learn more about local wildlife, track benefits of city trees, see what domestic cats are really up to, study the human brain, and do so much more.
The Crowd & the Cloud is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and was written and produced by Geoff Haines-Stiles.
Do you like long, moonlit walks on the beach?
The Nature Conservancy’s horseshoe crab census is for you. Each year in May and June when the tide is high between the full moon and the new moon, horseshoe crabs come out of the water to spawn on the beaches of New Jersey and Delaware – and citizen scientists come out to count them and track how well the population is recovering from a precipitous decline.
Adrianna Zito-Livingston, a Nature Conservancy scientist at Cape May Meadows, leads the survey and is featured in The Crowd & The Cloud. She will also be participating in a live event at The Crowd & The Cloud‘s Facebook Page tonight. You can send your questions to her and other Episode 4 stars via #CrowdCloudLIVE. Join tonight (April 27) at 10 PM EDT or 10 PM PDT!
The Audubon CBC is a perfect example of the kind of long-term data collected over a long timeline that simply wouldn’t be possible without citizen scientists. Data from the count goes all the way back to 1900 and the count has become a tradition with birders across the Americas.
The data has already been used in peer-reviewed scientific studies and has been integral in showing how climate change is affecting bird migration.
What if you could collect data on ocean acidity while catching some waves?
Nearshore scientific data on ocean temperature and acidity can be surprisingly difficult to collect with all those pesky waves destroying expensive scientific equipment, but those waves are exactly what draw millions of surfers around the world to the water.
The founders of Smartfin created a $200 device (now in beta testing with the help of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography) that is integrated into a surfboard to gather data while surfers are out on the waves. When they get back to shore, they simply upload the data to their smartphone.
Phenology, the timing of natural events like the falling of leaves or the laying of eggs, is important to study to highlight environmental changes over time. You can track these events in your own backyard or your favorite natural area with Nature’s Notebook.
Many smaller projects, like the New York Phenology Project, use Nature’s Notebook as a tool to gather local data and share it nationally. The New York Phenology project is focused on tracking pollinators and the plants that provide food for them. This information can be used on the ground by gardeners or in natural area management decisions. For instance, some late-blooming plants provide food for pollinators at a time when little else is available, if populations of those plants are low, gardeners and managers can plant more.
You’ve probably heard about the declines in the monarch butterfly population that overwinters in Mexico, but did you know that a distinct population overwinters at about 200 locations along the California coastline?
Data compiled by citizen scientists with the Xerces Society each year around Thanksgiving shows that these butterflies have been in steep decline over the past 20 years. An annual census continues to track the health of western monarch population.
Imagine trying to gather data on agricultural prices in a large, bustling city with no street signs. Or traveling over difficult roads and often still farther by foot to reach rural agricultural producers and study their land and their livelihoods. It might be seem like an insurmountable task for a few scientists; that’s the challenge that Talip Kilic faced in Uganda.
Rather than give up hope or work with limited data, he and his colleagues are training hundreds of Ugandans to help them gather accurate data on agriculture and nutrition that will shape sustainable development strategies.