SXSW Eco: Eyes in the Field, Boots on the Ground: Citizen Science

By Marcie Barnes

A panel of four experts who use citizen science to gather information and educate the public.

Panelists: Sandra Henderson – National Ecological Observatory Network, Boulder, CO; Anne Haywood of National Geographic’s Bioblitz Program; Travis Gallo of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; Janice Dickinson, a Cornell Professor.

Henderson: What is citizen science? Programs where individuals or networks of individuals collecting data outside of their “regular job”. They are hobbyists, love learning, are concerned, want to be involved. She directs

Haywood: Bioblitz started 6 years ago with the National Parks Service. Focus on building awareness around the parks and biodiversity. Also work with Project Noah – a smartphone app that allows people to explore nature and document via pictures, ask a scientist to identify something you do not know. Fieldscope is a GIS mapping tool to document nature findings.

Gallo: is a place for people to document invasive species in Texas. Citizens get outside and collect data – instead of a paper (typical) datasheet they are easily trained via the streamlined online datasheet and portal – helps with spelling of species names, etc. Getting a better understanding of where invasive species are being problematic. A sense of stewardship is built among the citizen scientists whether they collect data or start a program in their community to address invasive species.

Dickinson: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a new project in beta that is crowdsourcing sustainability called yardmap. They can draw a map on top of a satellite image and add objects (plants, rain barrels, solar panels, etc.) to the map. Focused on changing environmental stewardship and bird habitats – as well as things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. Also how to attract certain species to your yard (map). Help spread the contagious nature of sustainable practices.

Nuggets from Panel:

Project budburst helps track global warming effects by seeing when plants start to bloom, etc.

National Geographic helping a team in Mongolia to look for the tomb of Ghengis Khan via GIS and data collection from citizen scientists.

Texas invasive species data being used for land management, protecting endangered species, influencing policymakers via solid data.

The Cornell Lab has been tracking things such as acid rain and mercury effects on birds, species declines, create a state-of-the-birds report that is presented to policy makers. There is a deficit of people to analyze the complicated data sets, youth needed to go into the field of ecology to help with the statistical data analysis.

“Get people outside with a purpose” – one citizen got a grant (on her own) to work with 6th graders – to get them out and report data to their community.

Some blame technology for keeping people inside, these applications are using technology to get people outside.

Technology can be a hurdle because often the people interested are of the older demographic, but they overcome it. The iPhone makes it easier.

Darwin, Thoreau, Jefferson and others left a legacy of curiousity about nature, and were citizen scientists in their time. “create your own projects where trained volunteers and scientists together answer local, regional, and global questions, inform natural resource management decisions, advance scientific understanding, and improve environmental education.”









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