Inlägg

Vacation with a purpose

Do you already have any plans for summer vacation? This time, I’ve prepared a list of citizen science activities that will inspire you to make the most of your time while you are hiking, climbing, or diving.

In mountains

Biosphere Expeditions 

I’m trying to find more information about citizen science projects in Russia, and recently I’ve come across this platform – Biosphere Expeditions: mountain protection worldwide through citizen science and volunteering. They run projects all over the world, many in mountain environments such as the Altai Mountains, where I’m going to the Altai in a couple of weeks, Tien Shan, Carpathians, Cape Fold Mountains, Dhofar Mountains and the Pyrenees. I have already a trekking route, a list of outdoor and cultural activities. Still, all this wasn’t enough for me and I contacted local scientists who engage tourists into citizen science projects carried out in the Altai region. Hopefully, during my vacation, I will not only explore a beautiful area in the South-Western Siberia but also help local activists and researchers with data collection and contribute to mountain protection through citizen science.

Fingerprints of Change: Abisko plants and phenology

I highly recommend the project if you are staying in Sweden for this summer and going to the Abisko and the Swedish mountains. The project has been carried out by The Climate Impacts Research Centre, Umeå University, in partnership with  The naturum Abisko, STF Abisko Mountain Station, Abisko Scientific Research Station, and Naturens kalender (The Swedish National Phenology Network). The project aims at collecting species distributions and studying cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life for the region in and around Abisko National Park.

The creators of the project picked 40 species of plants that most amateur botanists familiar with the flora of the Swedish mountains can identify. As a participant of the project, you don’t need to have skills of defining and naming groups of biological organisms. All you need is to take pictures with your smartphone. If you want to learn more about the plant and animal life in the area, you can participate in education programs or take botanical tours at The naturum Abisko, observe the indicators of climate and environmental change together with scientists and gather data for fundamental research.

In water

Earthdive 

Earthdive is a global citizen science project that calls on recreational scuba divers and snorkelers to monitor the ocean for key indicator species. Divers and snorkelers are encouraged to record what they see straight after the dive or snorkel trip, and it doesn’t matter if you just saw one dolphin. Still, it’s important.

Observations of the participants are recorded in a special database known as the Global Dive Log and are accessible through a Google mapping interface. Over time, observations are aggregated to create a Global Snapshot of the state of the world’s oceans. In addition to being an international research project, Earthdive is also a network for divers, dive centres and marine conservation organisations around the world. Being a contributor to the project, you can help preserve the health and diversity of our oceans. The platform has been developed in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme – World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and marine biologists from all over the world.

Tauchen für Naturschutz [Diving for Nature protection]

It’s a German project initiated by NABU (Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union) for those who are passionate about diving in lakes. Scuba divers are enabled by the project to independently assess and report on the state of the underwater vegetation of lakes during the dive. The project aims to map underwater plants in the lakes of the North German lowland and monitor the lakes that are in danger. The data obtained provide information about how the state of the lakes is changing. The project works on the principle of ”learning by doing”: the conservationists taught aquatic plants to recreational divers and scuba divers offered diving to conservationists. After the dive, they were discussed together, evaluated and documented. The project has been a success, and now there is even a special course ”Diving for Nature protection”.

 

More links:

Blue Mountain Citizen Science monitoring program – a project that aims to record and collect data about changes to the environment in the Blue Mountains region, Australia.

Phenoclim – a scientific and educational programme that invites the public to measure the impact of climate change on mountain fauna and flora. Works in 6 mountains, including French.

Plankton Portal – in this project, you’ll be marking images of plankton—tiny oceanic organisms—taken by an underwater imaging system.

Seagrass-Watch – Seagrass-Watch is a global scientific, non-destructive, seagrass assessment and monitoring program.

About the importance of giving feedback in citizen science

Once, I decided to participate in an online citizen science project. I was surfing the Web and noticed that joining some Internet-based projects requires registration and some not. Well, I picked Tomnod, the one where I didn’t have to sign in, and started identifying satellite images with crabeater seals on them. The instructions were very simple: – ‘Yes’ for I see seals, and ‘No’ for I don’t. Time went by and after the analysis of about 20 images I got curious, “What will happen with my answers?” “Are my answers correct?”, “Have I analyzed more images than anyone else?”, “Will I get feedback on my work?”, “Will I be informed about a new project?” Interestingly, I got even curious about the life of the seals from the images, ”How old are they?”, ”Have they had enough food today?”

And here is the problem – some citizen science project platform don’t give feedback to the users. For example, I even didn’t get ”Thank you for your work for Tomnod”, so I didn’t feel good about the platform in general. I shared my thoughts with Keith Larson, my supervisor at Umea University and the leader of the group that works on technology implementation for citizen science within the ARCS project. We agreed that the absence of feedback in a citizen science project doesn’t sound right. When you are talking about engaging and collecting data without login it resembles the business marketing model – brand-customer relations. In this model, citizen scientist is a shopper or a consumer, if you’d prefer, and the citizen science project is a company. If the customer is committed to your brand, to your company, he or she comes back once and again until the project ends. Do we really want to create a structure where citizen science uses all these marketing tools? Some citizen science platforms are great but they undergo a big risk –  without some fundamental feedback that helps people learn about why and what they are doing, the platforms will lose their audience. Moreover, people will probably lose interest in the future in terms of participating not only in a specific project but in citizen science in general. Yes, it might be difficult to provide the individual feedback to each of the participants of a project, especially when there are thousands of volunteers collecting data but is there a solution to optimize the process of giving feedback?

I think computers can help a lot the scientists to improve two-way communication with individuals motivated for participation in citizen science projects. Some computer-based processes can retain volunteers in citizen science initiatives. I was looking for the solutions in the literature database of the ARCS project that I’m a member of, and I found a very good case. Van der Wal et al (2016) give an example of how computing science frameworks allowed for the automated generation of informative feedback to citizen scientists and fostered learning and volunteer engagement and laid the foundation for effective and long-lived citizen science projects. The participants of the BeeWatch program got not only “Thank you” for the submission of photos of bumblebees, but also feedback on whether the identification of a specimen was correct, reasons for misidentification and highlighting key features that can facilitate correct identification in the future. When you participate in such a program, you realise that you both help to collect data and learn more about different species, share gained knowledge with friends and just have fun.

Reference:

Van der Wal, R., Sharma, N., Mellish, C., Robinson, A., & Siddharthan, A. (2016). The role of automated feedback in training and retaining biological recorders for citizen science. Conservation Biology, 30(3), 550–561.doi:10.1111/cobi.12705

Are you engaged in people-powered research?

Sometimes we don’t realize that we are citizen scientists until someone tells us that we actually are. I was about 12-14 years old when I stepped into the world of people-powered research – I was observing bees on a regular basis.

I used to spend my school summer vacations with my grandparents in the countryside. My grandfather used to have many beehives, seven or nine. They were placed in a small area surrounding our country house and terrifying all the neighbours. I was also scared of those small creatures living in the colourful constructions – their bite could easily spoil my day. However, I found bees very cute, fluffy and hard-working. Moreover, there was something almost hypnotising in watching their daily routine – how they were departing from the hives, carrying pollen on their tiny legs or landing on the hives’ stands. I was also lucky because I had an opportunity to assist my grandfather in his small bee-garden – to open the hive covers or take out frames with honey. Every day, every year, except winter time when bees went into hibernation, we were observing the bees, their activity, their behaviour. Everything was noted, thoroughly described, measured, and even reported to the local union of beekeepers and some other institutions. Probably, the union analysed all the data and sent the summary to the national union of beekeepers but I don’t remember the details now. I just loved watching the bees and having them in my life. It was a very unique and very personal experience that I cherished because it made me be closer to nature and helped later to better understand the scientific process.

I assisted my grandfather because of the curiosity and desire to be involved in something mysterious, as I thought, and I understand now that the observations we did in our small bee-garden actually contributed to something bigger, helped to better understand the lovely yellow-black creatures and map the areas where one could find a certain type of honey. Thanks to my current research project on citizen science at Umea University, I see that the benefits of bee watchers to conservation and science as well as to participants themselves are increasingly recognized and valued. Citizen science programs mobilise people to contribute to scientific research. Scientific data gathered by communities gives concerned people, decision-makers or scientists access to more information than what they can gather on their own. Also, citizen scientists themselves can gain knowledge on insects and their population distributions, seasonal cycles. And that’s true – time has passed but I remember very well some facts about bees and flowers pollen that affect the taste of honey.

Looking back, I wish I had had more opportunities for science engagement, and citizen science particularly, as a kid. Knowing how many citizen science related web-platforms and mobile apps are available now, I’m truly happy for children, their parents, teachers and researchers. Thanks to the development of technology, we can learn so much about the world around us in a never-ending mode.  

So, look up for a citizen science app and go outside – watch bees, beetles, ants, birds, whatever. Explore the world around you! Have a look at some citizen science platforms and projects:

Sweden:

  • Bikalender – a citizen science project for beekeepers in Sweden
  • ArtPortalen – a website for observations of Sweden’s plants, animals and fungi
  • Naturens kalender – the Swedish National Phenology Network, a collaboration between universities, governmental agencies, and volunteers

International:

  • SciStarter – a citizen science project directory and knowledge hub
  • Zooniverse – a citizen science web portal
  • iNaturalist – a citizen science project and online social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists
  • eBird – an online database of bird observations