Hiking in the Appalachian Mountains? Here’s How You Can Contribute to Science While You’re At It

Hiking on Appalachian Trail (Credit: Chewonki Semester School/Flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

Hiking on Appalachian Trail (Credit: Chewonki Semester School/Flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

Hikers in the Appalachian mountains contribute data and help researchers learn how climate change is affecting plants living in high Alpine ranges and promote conservation in the face of these changes. Learn more about Mountain Watch, the citizen science project featured in the upcoming SciStarter newsletter. Find out what other projects you can participate in the great outdoors here!

by Kristin Butler

A few years ago I read the book “Following Atticus” by Tom Ryan. It’s a true story about a man and his dog and the adventures they had climbing the Appalachian Mountain Range to qualify for membership in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s prestigious “Four Thousand Footer Club.”

In addition to being a great tale about the relationship between Tom and his dog Atticus, the book beautifully illustrates the profound impact wilderness can have on the human body, mind, and spirit.
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How Citizen Scientists are Creating an Atlas of Turtles in Connecticut

Eastern Box Turtle (Image Credit: Andrea Janda/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Eastern Box Turtle (Image Credit: Andrea Janda/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Citizen scientists in Connecticut are creating an atlas of the many species of turtles and helping researchers understand the role of turtles in the ecosystem. Find more information about participating in Connecticut Turtle Atlas, the citizen science project on SciStarter and check out for our newsletter featuring projects you can do outdoors!

Guest post by Russ Campbell

Nothing quite says summer like a stroll along the water’s edge and finding a turn of turtles basking on a log or witnessing the slow and deliberate pace of an eastern box turtle.  Before these ancient creatures retire to the earth for their winter hibernation, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich asks for your help in mapping the turtle population in the Constitution State.

I recently interviewed Tim Walsh, turtle biologist and Manager of Natural History Collections and Citizen Science at the Bruce Museum, on the Connecticut Turtle Atlas.
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Category: Animals, Citizen science | 1 Comment

Coop’s Scoop: Amphibian and Reptile Citizen Science on the next #CitSciChat

Cuban Rock Iguana | photo by Staselnik

Cuban Rock Iguana | photo by Staselnik

There are millions of people taking part in citizen science across the world, and thousands of practitioners – scientists, educators, computer scientists, and activists – organizing citizen science projects. Citizen science has emerged as a new discipline, with novel ways of enabling scientific research, informing policy and conservation, and motivating learning.

New organizations, such as the Citizen Science Association, the European Citizen Science Association, and Australian Citizen Science Association, are helping practitioners connect with each other to solidify best practices and training. Other organizations provide cyberinfrastructure to help administer citizen science projects, like Zooniverse for online projects and CitSci.org and Wildbook for field projects. Other organizations, like Public Lab and Global Community Monitor, support grassroots citizen science. Still other organizations, like SciStarter, connect participants with projects.
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Citizen Science for herptile fans!

Photo: Eva Lewandowski

Photo: Eva Lewandowski

Amphibians and reptiles, also known asherptiles or herps, are the focus of many citizen science projects.

If you like frogs, turtles, and salamanders, just to name a few, join one of the projects below to help us better understand the distribution and population status of these wonderful creatures!

Check out the SciStarter blog for updates on your favorite projects and find new projects in our Project Finder!


The SciStarter Team

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Category: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

California Dreaming

Red-eared Slider (Photo by Gregory Pauly)

Red-eared Slider (Photo by Gregory Pauly)

Citizen scientists document in collaboration with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles help document reptiles and amphbians in Southern California to aid in conservation efforts. Find more information about participating in RASCals, the citizen science project on SciStarter and watch out for our herptile themed newsletter!

by Sharman Apt Russell

This June, I walked the wilds of Los Angeles looking for lizards. And snakes. And turtles. And because I was finally looking for them, I also began seeing them—and isn’t that a basic truth of life as well as  citizen science?

I visit Los Angeles for ten days twice a year as a teacher for the low-residency MFA graduate writing program at Antioch University. My time in nature is mostly spent in a few long runs near my hotel and in walking back and forth from the hotel to the university campus. This summer, wherever I went, I also took along my camera. I was on a mission for the Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California (RASCals) citizen science project—to document any reptile or amphibian I came across and to send that image to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
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The Salamander Crossing Brigades: Citizen Science for Salamanders in Southwest New Hampshire

How about giving me a quick lift? Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) (Image credit: Dave Huth/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0)

How about giving me a quick lift? Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) (Image credit: Dave Huth/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0)

Citizen scientists of the Salamander Crossing Brigades in New Hampshire help thousands of salamanders safely across dangerous roads in their migratory journey to the vernal pools. Find out how they contribute to conservation research by tracking and monitoring the salamanders on an annual basis.

Guest post by Brett Amy Thelen

Every spring, as the earth thaws and warm rains drench New England, thousands of amphibians make their way to vernal pools to breed. It’s a magical time. For the salamanders and frogs undertaking their annual migration, it’s also a dangerous one. One study in western and central Massachusetts found that roadkill rates on even relatively quiet roads could lead to extirpation of local spotted salamander populations in as few as 25 years. Another study reported that 50-100% of salamanders attempting to cross a paved rural road in upstate New York didn’t survive the trek. 
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Category: Animals, Citizen science, Environment | Tagged | 1 Comment

NASA and SciStarter enlist citizen scientists for nationwide research that examines soil moisture conditions and water availability

Image Credit: National Resource Conservation Service (Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

National Resource Conservation Service (Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Philadelphia, PA – NASA scientists are on a mission to map global soil moisture, and through SciStarter, they’re teaming up with citizen scientists to gather valuable data from the ground to complement and validate what is seen from space.

Known as the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite mission, the research will help scientists understand links among Earth’s water, energy and carbon cycles; reduce uncertainties in predicting climate; and enhance the ability to monitor and predict natural hazards like floods and droughts. SMAP data have additional practical applications for citizens everywhere, including improved weather forecasting and crop yield predictions.
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Divers Attempt to Solve Mystery of Sevengill Shark Sightings on the Pacific Coast

Sevengill Shark "Notorynchus cepedianus" by José María Pérez Nuñez CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Sevengill Shark “Notorynchus cepedianus” by José María Pérez Nuñez CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Diver-citizen scientists help find out why there has been a recent increase in the number of Sevengill Sharks spotted in the San Diego area

The first thing the divers noticed upon reaching the bottom was that there were absolutely no fish—anywhere. The lighting, also being strange, lent everything a deserted, eerie feel. But, says diver Mike Bear, “We continued deeper into this spooky, yellowish-green ‘ghost forest’ with its odd, dearth of fish—failing to make the obvious connection in our minds: where had they all the fish gone and why? The previous week, this same area was overflowing with life. Sometimes the fish sense something you don’t.”

Bear and diving buddy Dave Hershman had just entered the water off Point La Jolla. Swimming eastward, separated by about 12 feet of water, quite suddenly a long dark shadow materialized between them, “moving at a good clip,” says Bear. It took a couple of seconds for him to register that this was a fast-moving shark. “By the time he had pulled slightly ahead of me, I saw the characteristic long tail of the Sevengill pass before my face, and from a couple of feet recognized the species.”

What exactly is the Sevengill shark? Filmmaker, diver and founder of the Sevengill citizen science counting project Barbara Lloyd says, “Well, here’s the boring response to that question—scientifically speaking it’s officially known as the Broadnose Sevengill shark, Notorynchus cepedianus, and it’s the only existing member of the genus Notorynchus in the family Hexanchidae!

This fairly large shark grows to about 11 feet, is speckled with gray or brownish spots, and has only seven gills on each side, which distinguishes it from the Bluntnose Sixgill shark. The Sevengill lives in tropical to temperate waters excepting for the North Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.

With this post coinciding with Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, the more important question might be—have there been any attacks, since such a large predator inhabits these shallow near-shore waters? “Only three suspected attacks have been documented in the last fifty years,” says Lloyd, “with the most recent being in New Zealand in 2009.” They do get aggressive when feeding, mating, are provoked, and interestingly enough in aquariums. “Prior to that the Shark Attack File shows that there have only been five since the 17th Century.”

Lloyd and Bear began the Sevengill Shark ID Project in 2010, after hearing numerous reports of local divers encountering them, reports that had not previously surfaced. “I had been diving regularly in the San Diego area since 2000, averaging about 100 dives per year,” says Bear, “mainly in the area of La Jolla Shores, La Jolla Cove, Wreck Alley and Point Loma, as well as being actively involved in the San Diego diving community. I do not recall hearing any diver reports of encounters with Sevengill sharks much before 2007—and then suddenly we began hearing the first reports from local divers,” he notes.

The project website began as a simple spreadsheet which allowed local divers to log their encounters without photos. From there it developed into the site you see today, which uses photographs and a pattern recognition algorithm to ID individual sharks. The motivation was to answer the scientific question: why was there an apparent increase in encounters between divers and this species from 2007 onward?

Dr. John Hyde a marine biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in San Diego wonders if the answer to that question might just be that it is a combination of more Sevengill sharks congregating in the area, and more divers in the water. “Overall we don’t have a good sense for changes in abundance of Sevengill sharks, but it is likely that they are increasing in number since the 1994 moratorium on nearshore (within three miles) gillnet fisheries in California.” The nearshore gillnet fishery had a significant effect on abundance of many fish species, especially sharks and rays, both as direct mortalities and indirectly by removal of prey items. Hyde adds, “This coupled with increasing numbers of recreational divers, cheaper and better underwater camera systems, and increased awareness of these sharks through social media has led to better documentation of their presence.” Though sevengills are fairly common these days, especially in bay and nearshore regions, there is still a lot of research to be done.

“We want to know why sevengills have been attracted to the La Jolla area over the past five years,” says Bear. “Is it the ocean conditions, changing water temperature, has the location just developed into the ideal nursery or pupping ground, or is it particularly mating-related? There may be an increase in prey, or it could be a combination of a number of these?”

The project has amassed a sizable database of still photographs and video, but they are still in the early stages of data collection and evaluation, and have not published any results yet. Barbara Lloyd has had some success using the pattern recognition algorithm to identify individual sharks.

For all, the most sublime Shark Week sensation would also be the most benign—to be able to dive with these magnificent predators, to be in their presence as they glide majestically by.

Are you a diver who lives in the San Diego area? Help the Sevengill Shark ID project answer their questions! Visit the project page on SciStarter to sign up and learn how to enter your sightings according to the specified protocols.

It’s Shark Week! And that means we’re lining up shark themed citizen science projects that you can participate in. Sign up for our newsletter to know which projects are being featured and watch this space for more blog posts!

Ian Vorster has a MS in Environmental Communications and most recently served as director of communications at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts – the world’s leading climate change think tank. He has worked as a designer, writer, photographer, editor and project leader in the field of science communication, and now runs a consultancy where he functions in a blend of these roles. You can see more of Ian‘s work at dragonflyec.com.

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Coop’s Scoop: Shark citizen science, on the next #CitSciChat

shark on Kronos Reef, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge; photo by Wyland

shark on Kronos Reef, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge; photo by Wyland

After the blockbuster movie Jaws, two silly things happened: kids started calling me Hooper (instead of Cooper) and I was afraid even in the deep end of a swimming pool. Logic can battle fear, but not necessarily win. Even though there are hundreds of species of sharks, and about 20 types that ever harm people, a fin in the water elicits screams. People should be cautious and smart when in waters with Great White sharks, just as they should be when hiking in areas with Grizzly bears or Mountain lions. Just as they should be cautious when driving, when choosing foods, and going down stairways. There are hazards everywhere.

But we shouldn’t let fear, or the aesthetics of beauty determine conservation priorities. People tend to be sympathetic to a relatively few “poster species” for conservation even though most species in need of conservation actions are not generally considered cute, cuddly, or obviously useful.  Even though many species of sharks are near extinction, I realize that my own conservation orientation is dampened by fear, despite knowing that people are at far greater risk of death from lightning than sharks. On top of that, sharks are the ones with more reason to be afraid because people kill tens of millions of sharks annually.

For me, only fascination can lessen my fear and spark my conservation concern. As  Irish poet James Stephens put it, “Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.”

Fortunately, sharks are fascinating. Sharks have a sixth sense, electroreception, through an organ called the ampullae of Lorenzini. They also have what could be called a seventh sense: their lateral line organ acts like an internal barometer so they can sense tiny changes in pressure from passing objects. With eyes on the sides of their heads, sharks have nearly panoramic views, with blind spots only in front of their snout and directly behind their head. Plus, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The dwarf shark is only about 4 inches long, which makes it cute. Some sharks give birth to live offspring, called pups, which, again, seems pretty cute. Other species lay egg cases with the nickname mermaid’s purses: adorable. Some sharks are social, and forms schools and migrate together. Almost 50 species of sharks have photospheres, which are light-emitting organs.

There are over 1,000 species of elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and rays) and 24% of are on IUCN red list, meaning they are threatened by extinction. One major challenge to shark conservation is the fear factor that limits public concern. Their biology challenges to their conservation too: they have naturally low population densities and their large home ranges often span the coasts of multiple countries. Another challenge is that, for almost half the species, there is not enough information to assess their extinction risk. The data gap on so many species across the world has been a call to citizen science. Now there are projects that draw on recreational divers, dive guides, photographers, beach goers, and more.

whale shark 2014 by Nicholas Lindell Reynolds

whale shark 2014 by Nicholas Lindell Reynolds

For example, divers and guides monitor shark numbers in Sharkscount. Divers photograph whale sharks in Philippines as part of the Large Marine Vertebrates Project. From photos of whale sharks, researchers can use pattern recognition software (originally developed by NASA) to identify individuals based on their unique spots and stripes. Whale shark photos aggregated in Wild Book for Whale Sharks allow researchers to estimate their abundance. Recreational divers help Redmap in Western Australia to map the abundance and distribution of sharks.

Other citizen scientists stroll the beaches and search for mermaid’s purses. The locations where these egg cases wash up on shore can help identify potential nurseries and assess shark abundance and distribution. For example, in the UK and Italy, citizen scientists find egg cases of Smallspotted Catsharks and Nursehounds.

egg case of a lesser spotted dogfish by Tom Oates 2009

egg case of a lesser spotted dogfish by Tom Oates 2009

Irrespective of whether you feel a connection with sharks based on fear or fascination, we need to recognize that they are part of healthy ocean ecosystems.

If you like sharks or if you suffer from galeophobia (an excessive fear of sharks), join us for the next #CitSciChat, a Twitter discussion about citizen science. This week, which is Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, we’ll talk about citizen science with sharks. What people do, why they do it, and why this means YOU!

The #CitSciChat will be Wednesday 8 July 2pm EDT, 7pm BST, 8pm SAST, which corresponds to Thursday 9 July 6am NZST.

Sharks live around the world and so do our guest panelists:

Rebecca Jarvis (@Rebecca_Jarvis) a graduate student in New Zealand.

Katie Gledhill (@KatGledhill) with the South African Shark Conservancy and Earthwatch shark project.

David Shiffman (@WhySharks Matter) a graduate student at University of Miami’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy

Jake Leveson (@SCBMarine & @jacoblevenson), a marine biologist at the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and  Education Officer with the Marine section of the Society of Conservation Biology.

Jason Osborne (@paleoexplorer), President and Cofounder of Paleo Quest (@paleoquest), and Cofounder of SharkFinder citizen science (@shark_citsci)

Catalina Pimiento (@pimientoc), a PhD candidate in the U of Florida (defending this Friday!). Her research investigates the ecology of sharks in deep time. Next month she begins a post doc fellowship at the Paläontologisches Institut und Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.

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Did you know ‘storm spotters’ in your community keep you safe during severe weather?

Hurricane shown on a weather radar (Photo: NOAA)

Hurricane shown on a weather radar (Photo: NOAA)

Civic minded citizen scientists in your community help meteorologists and the National Weather Service stay abreast of inclement weather with on-the-ground data.

Earlier this week, the Midwest and Northeast were slammed with tornados and thunderstorms that grounded planes and held up trains. Thousands of people along the Northeast corridor lost power as a result.

During such hazardous weather, we rely on the knowledge, skill and expertise of meteorologists and designated emergency personnel to keep us safe and in the know. They in turn rely on data supplied by not just satellites and doppler radars but also – a network of citizen scientists.

But wait. With all our sophisticated technology, what could a few volunteers possibly contribute?
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