Citizen Science

You’re Invited to Do Science with The Crowd & The Cloud

April 27, 2017

Follow Lisa

“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.

Featured Projects

Horseshoe crabs spawning in Mispillion Harbor, Delaware. Photo by Gregory Breese/USFWS.

Horseshoe Crab Census 

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!

It’s surprising what beautiful birds you can see, even watching in the city. This Hooded Merganser was spotted in Portland, OR during the 117th Christmas Bird Count. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Lisa Feldkamp)

Christmas Bird Count (CBC) 

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.

Surfers, godwits and other shore birds share the shore at Black’s Beach, La Jolla, southern California. Photo © Richard Herrmann


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.

Nature’s Notebook records by site. Join people across the country in contributing your field notes! Image courtesy of Nature’s Notebook.

Nature’s Notebook

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.

Migrating monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) wintering in conifer branches in San Simeon, CA. Photo
© Mark Dolyak

Western Monarch Count 

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.

Talip Kilic walks with a young girl in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Photo © The Crowd & The Cloud

Data for Development

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.

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

Follow Lisa

Join the Discussion

Please note that all comments are moderated and may take some time to appear.


  1. Tiger prawn seed collection is a common profession, which is detrimental to the socio-economic and biodiversity profiles of Indian Sundarbans. Apart from destruction of finfish and shell fish juveniles (Roy Chowdhury and Mitra, 2017), the practice of dragging the nets along the shore uproots the mangrove seedlings. These seedlings not only control soil erosion, but also act as a major sink of carbon dioxide (Agarwal et al., 2016, Mitra et al., 2016a; Mitra et al., 2016b; Pal et al., 2016; Zaman et al., 2016; Mitra et al., 2017). This practice is therefore a serious threat to ecosystem services of Sundarban estuaries (Mitra and Zaman, 2014; Mitra and Zaman, 2015; Mitra and Zaman, 2016). Because of recession in traditional livelihood like agriculture (due to expansion of shrimp culture activities) and lack of alternative livelihood schemes at commercial scale, people of Sundarbans are accelerating their dependency on prawn seed collection. Considering the negative impact of this profession it is of utmost importance to procure prawn seeds from hatcheries (available in plenty from the adjacent states like Odisha and Andhra Pradesh), develop seed bank and provide alternative livelihoods through ICZM (Integrated Coastal Zone Management) programme as a separate section for this mangrove dominated World Heritage Site.

    1. Agarwal, S., Zaman, S., Biswas, S., Pal, N., Pramanick, P., and Mitra, A. Spatial variation of mangrove seedling carbon with respect to salinity: A case study with Bruguiera gymnorrhiza seedling. International Journal of Advanced Research in Biological Sciences, 3(8) (2016) 7-12.

    2. Ahmed, F., Hossain, MY, Fulanda, B., Ahmed, ZF., Ohtomi, J. Indiscriminate exploitation of wild prawn post larvae in the coastal region of Bangladesh, A threat to the fisheries resources, community livelihoods and biodiversity. Ocean and coastal management, (2012) 56-62.

    3. Mitra, A. Status of coastal pollution in West Bengal with special reference to heavy metals. Journal of Indian Ocean Studies, 5(2) (1998) 135–138.

    4. Mitra, A. In: Sensitivity of Mangrove Ecosystem to changing Climate. (Springer DOI: 10.1007/978-81-322-1509-7) (2013) pp. 323.

    5. Mitra, A., Choudhury, A., Zamaddar, Y.A.Effects of heavy metals on benthic molluscan communities in Hooghly estuary.Proceedings of Zoological Society, 45 (1992) 481-496.

    6. Mitra, A., Pal, N., Chakraborty, A., Mitra, A., Saha, A., Trivedi, S. and Zaman S. Estimation of stored carbon in Sonneratia apetala seedlings collected from Indian Sundarbans. Indian Journal of Geo-Marine Sciences, 45(11) (2016b) 1598-1602.

    7. Mitra, A., Saha, A., Pal, N., Fazli, P., Zaman, S. Allometry in S. apetala seedlings of Indian Sundarbans. International journal of recent advances in multidisciplinary research, 3 (2016a) 1903-1909.

    8. Mitra A., Sundaresan J., Banerjee k., Agarwal SK., In: Environmental coastguards. Published by CSIR-National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (CSIR-NISCAIR), ISBN 978-81-7236-352-9; (2017).

    9. Mitra, A. & Zaman, S. Carbon Sequestration by Coastal Floral Community; published by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) TERI Press, India, ISBN 978-81-7993-551-4; (2014).

    10. Mitra, A. & Zaman, S. Blue carbon reservoir of the blue planet, published by Springer, ISBN 978-81-322-2106-7 (Springer DOI 10.1007/978-81-322-2107-4) (2015).

    11. Mitra, A. & Zaman, S. Basics of Marine and Estuarine Ecology, 2016, Springer, ISBN 978-81-322-2705-2; (2016).

    12. Pal, N., A. Gahul,Zaman, S., Biswas, P. andMitra A. Spatial Variation of Stored Carbon in Avicennia alba Seedlings of Indian Sundarbans. Int. J. Trend Res. Dev., 3(4) (2016) 100-103.

    13. Roy Chowdhury, G. & Mitra A.Traditional Halophytic Medicine: A New Era in the Health Care Canvas. Organic and Medicinal Chemistry International Journal, 555584. (DOI: 10.19080/OMCIJ.2017.02.555584) 2 (2) (2017).

    14. Williams, D. Management options for the shrimp fry fishery, Regional stakeholder workshop in Khulna, Bangladesh, (2002) 8.

    15. Zaman, S., Biswas, S., Pal, N., Datta, U., Biswas, P., and Mitra, A. Ecosystem Service of HeritierafomesSeedlings in terms of Carbon Storage.International Journal of Trend in Research and Development, 3(4) (2016) 183-185.

  2. August 9 I saw my first rusty-patched bumblebee—on Beaver Island, Michigan’s southern end. Though I had no camera and was unable to quickly the flower it was on so briefly, I’m certain it was a rusty-patched. Milkweed (and Monarchs) and other native species have returned to this beach after several years of concerted effort controlling phragmites and spotted knapweed that had taken over.

  3. Bhitarkanika Mangrove Forest: A Potential Sink of Carbon

    Kakoli Banerjee1, Sangita Agarwal2, Nabonita Pal3 and Abhijit Mitra4

    1Department of Biodiversity & Conservation of Natural Resources, Central University of Orissa, Landiguda, Koraput, Odisha 764 021

    2Department of Applied Science, RCC Institute of Information Technology, Beliaghata, Kolkata 700028, India

    3Department of Oceanography, Techno India University, Salt Lake Campus, Kolkata-700091, India

    4Department of Marine Science, University of Calcutta, 35 B.C. Road, Kolkata 700019, India
    A survey was carried out at Bhitarkanika Wild Life Sanctuary (BWLS) during August 2016 to estimate stored carbon in the stem region of true mangrove floral species. The stored carbon exhibited direct proportionality with stem biomass irrespective of the species documented in the present geographical locale. The total stored carbon in the stems of the selected species is 61.97 t /ha, which synchronizes well with values (extrapolated through thumb rule) obtained from different mangrove regions of the world. The present study establishes the potential of BWLS mangrove flora in the domain of carbon sequestration, which is a new dimension in the ecosystem services of mangroves thriving in the deltaic complex of Brahmani and Baitarani Rivers.
    Keywords: Bhitarkanika Wild Life Sanctuary (BWLS), Mangroves, Stem biomass, Stem carbon

  4. Astaxanthin, one of the naturally occurring carotenoid pigments possessing strong antioxidant property, has been pointed to play an essential role in the protection against peroxidation of lipid and oxidative damage of LDL cholesterol, cell membrane, cells and tissues. The salt tolerant mangrove vegetation present in the deltaic lobe of Indian Sundarbans has been documented as one of the prime source of astaxanthin. This paper reflects the accumulation pattern of astaxanthin in six species of mangroves namely- Avicennia officinalis, Avicennia alba, Avicennia marina, Sonneratia apetala, Aegiceros corniculatum and Bruguiera gymnorrhiza at ten different stations having different environmental conditions in the Hooghly-Matla estuarine complex of Indian Sundarbans. Although these six species share the same brackish water media, but significant variation in the leaf astaxanthin level confirms the concept of species specificity and effects of various physico-chemical factors in terms of this secondary carotenoid.