Sunday, April 21, 2013

Counting Down to Earth Day 2013: 4.21.13

Welcome to Day 12 of my Counting Down to Earth Day 2013 challenge. 


If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s OK.

There is currently no official definition of “citizen scientist.” Most would agree that “citizen science” involves a collaboration between scientists and volunteers, often involving data collection. I like this working definition of citizen science I found on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website: “Projects in which volunteers partner with scientists to answer real-world questions.” 

Perhaps the most well-known citizen science project to date is SETI@home in which volunteers help scientists search for extraterrestrial life by downloading a special program that analyzes radio telescope data which runs on a home computer when it is not otherwise in use.

The National Wildlife Federation has compiled a lengthy list of projects suitable for a broad range of ages and interests, with alliterative names such as: Fun with Frogs, Fabulous Firefly Festivities, and Monarch Mayhem

Cornell University offers several different projects involving birds, one of which is tailored for urban dwellers. This is a great resource for teachers. There are even opportunities to apply for mini-grants for community events.

While many of the opportunities involve outdoor activities, there are a number of projects for those who like being indoors or have impaired mobility. One of these is Old Weather, a project in which volunteers transcribe weather data found in logbooks from ships sailing with the East India Company from the 1780s to the 1830s in order to “improve understanding of all forms of weather variability in the past and so improve our ability to predict weather and climate in the future.”

Here is one for all you gardeners out there — Become a First Detector through training offered through the National Plant Diagnostic Network. The question posed on this website is: “Are you interested in protecting U.S. agricultural and natural areas for exotic, invasive species?” If your answer is “yes,” you are invited to enroll in an online training course, with a number of short instructional modules on monitoring for high risk pests and diagnosing and reporting plant problems. If you pass all the units successfully, you will receive a certificate and an invitation to sign up for periodic updates in order to stay current on all the latest news on alien invaders. “First Detectors” are often just that, the first ones to detect that an alien species has arrived in a new area. It was a master gardener in the wasp watcher program who first detected the presence of the Emerald Ash Borer in CT last summer.

I have only just scratched the surface. There are all sorts of projects that could use your help. Check some more out here and here.

On Earth Day last year the National Science Foundation sang the praises of citizen scientists:Earth Day invariably triggers discussions about the enormously complex state of the planet and begs the equally daunting question, ‘How can one person make a difference?’… But just one person can indeed chip in as a citizen scientist, who helps the scientific community unravel the mysteries of where Mother Nature is today and where she is headed. The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds groups of these concerned volunteers who collect data and share their observations and insights on a scale that full-time scientists simply cannot accomplish.” 

See, one person really can help to change the world.

Come back tomorrow for a new tip in celebration of Earth Day!

Love Your Mother (Earth). Pass it on. Together we can make a difference. Yes, we can!

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