Scientists around the world are researching environmental topics ranging from astronomy to zoology with the help of ordinary people like you and me.
Are you a keen observer?
Do you keep a gardening journal where you note natural events such as the first spring crocuses, summer Japanese beetles, autumn geese flyovers and the appearance of winter snow?
If so, you might enjoy putting your skills to use as a citizen scientist who makes observations and presents them for inclusion in scientific projects.
Long- and short-term opportunities are available through organizations such as conservatories, universities, and science foundations.
Participants perform a valuable service by helping to expand existing bodies of knowledge.
In this article, we present five citizen science apps that give participants the chance to count their observations of the natural world and contribute to scientific research.
Here’s the lineup:
5 Citizen Science Apps
Citizen science activities don’t require large time commitments and are fun for the whole family.
Whether you’re in the city or the country, by the sea or on a mountain top, you can participate in gathering crowdsourced data about our natural world with these five excellent apps.
You can find them all for free on Google Play for Android and the App Store for iOS devices. Be sure to select the most up-to-date version to install.
Some can also be accessed through a web browser if you don’t want to install an app.
Let’s look at the highlights of each.
Keen birdwatchers and beginners alike will enjoy viewing avian species reporting via Cornell’s mobile eBird app or the eBird website.
You’ll need to start by setting up a Cornell Lab account, which is free. This is your portal to bird-counting projects as well as online educational courses and reference materials.
Raise your avian IQ with Bird Academy identification courses, and soon you’ll be identifying species by sight, sound, and behavior.
Download “packs” that are tailored to the bird populations in your area, or the one you travel to, and be on the lookout for rare sightings to share directly with other e-birders.
Submit a checklist documenting your experiences bird watching, traveling, and going about your daily routine. You can even record scenes you watch after the fact as you recall them later.
You can set Easy GPS Tracker to automatically record logistics such as time in the field and distance covered. An auto-save feature maintains each checklist you submit for future reference.
If you find yourself in a remote area without cell service, you can easily work offline, and save your checklists for submission at a later date.
Birds play essential environmental roles, from pollination and seed dispersal to pest regulation and soil enrichment. Your data contribution can be helpful in guiding environmentally conscious development and conservation of endangered species.
Use your growing knowledge of local bird species to inform your gardening choices, from plants to attract your favorite feeders to organic pest controls.
2. Globe Observer
With the occasional glance at the sky, you can collect data for the NASA Globe Cloud Observation Project, and submit it online through the Globe Observer app or at the Globe Program website with a Globe Observer account.
By comparing pictures of the ground taken from below the clouds with pictures taken by satellites above, scientists can get a more complete picture of the atmosphere.
Sufficient learning material is available on the website to give the participants a working knowledge of the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and pedosphere.
A comprehensive e-training program is available for both teachers and supervisors.
Get started by setting up a free account. Next, request satellite information for your area, so you can have your cloud study within 15 minutes of a weather satellite passing over you.
Once your account is set up, data can be collected offline, if required, for subsequent online submission.
Ideally, ground observations are matched with data collected by space satellites. If you submit data via the mobile app during a satellite pass-over, you will receive an email from NASA a week later with a report that evaluates the matched data.
Other areas of NASA study are available on the platform such as mosquitoes, land and trees. Projects in these areas can also be accessed through the Globe Observer app and The Globe Program website.
NASA is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), and the Department of State.
Understanding Earth’s atmosphere, living things, water and soil enables scientists to promote environmentally sound practices for optimal management and sustainability.
Recognizing weather patterns, understanding the habits of flora and fauna, practicing water conservation, and building soil health are essential components of sustainable home gardening practices.
A joint venture of the National Geographic Society and the California Academy of Sciences, iNaturalist can be accessed through both the app and website.
After creating an account, you can enjoy a range of articles and video tutorials about observing plants and animals, as well as documenting animal sounds.
Crowdsourcing is at its best with this app, as observers and qualified identifiers come together to collect sightings and classify species to create a vast and diverse database of the world’s plants and animals.
Become a nature explorer, participate in projects, or even start your own. You can work online or off, and upload findings at your convenience.
Participate in a “BioBlitz” program, in which participants from a certain region, such as the Northern Hemisphere, submit as many photographs of plants and animals as possible during the project period.
Verified and identified photographs are contributed to databases such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility for use in scientific research.
4. Nature’s Notebook
Nature’s Notebook, a project run by the USA National Phenology Network (NPN) in collaboration with the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is available through a mobile app or website.
Phenology is a fascinating study of the interrelationships between plants, animals, and climate. It focuses on the timing of various life cycle changes that occur throughout the year.
As easy as one-two-three, just join, open your account, and start viewing and submitting your data.
There is a range of online learning modules that teach you how to become an expert supervisor, and you can even earn “Certified Supervisor” status.
Nature’s Notebook allows you to access a list of plant and animal species to choose from for observation. You can also add species that are not already on the list.
After setting up an account, load your observation site details to document where you’re reporting from.
Next, view the list of plant and animal species and choose the ones you’d like to see, or add your own.
You can make a checklist of people you want to see regularly.
Plants should be monitored throughout the growing season or “phenophase” with photographic submissions to document their changing appearance.
Choose a favorite backyard tree, shrub, or perennial of your choice, or perhaps a special “campaign” plant that is the subject of a special study.
You can also choose to record the animal species that visit your chosen site during the observation period.
There are many projects to choose from, or you can even start your own. Join like-minded naturalists and pursue data collection on topics such as the dogwood tree’s phenophase, invasive species, and nectar sources of bats.
Your participation in Nature’s Notebook helps to better understand how plant and animal behavior changes with climate events.
You can apply the principles of phenology to the home garden as well.
By keeping climate records, you can estimate the dates of the first and last frost and plan your planting and harvest accordingly.
Knowing the order in which perennial flowers bloom can guide succession planting for beds that bloom non-stop throughout the growing season.
And when plants grow berries or begin to set seed, you can even predict which birds will visit your yard.
The Zooniverse website and app offers the opportunity to become a volunteer who classifies data for study not only in scientific fields, but also in the humanities.
This platform is unique in that the raw data has already been collected by citizen scientists on other platforms such as iNaturalist (see above), and needs to be described, hence Zooniverse’s mission, “…volunteers Converting efforts into measurable results.
There are several categories of projects, and as they are completed, new ones take their place.
Under “Nature,” you might find an activity like “SquirrelMapper,” in which you’ll be asked to classify photos of squirrels based on their fur color.
Another, “Nest Quest Go: Woodpeckers,” asks volunteers to describe nests captured in photographs collected by citizen scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project Nest Watch.
The Zooniverse “Talk” discussion board brings together volunteers and researchers to collaborate.
In addition to grading project results, you can apply to be a “beta tester” who samples a project before it goes live, or a “project moderator” who guides discussion boards.
make a difference
These five research platforms engage citizen scientists to help with the overwhelming work of collecting and classifying data about our natural world.
You may find additional opportunities of interest on SciStarter, an app and web platform that bills itself as an “onramp” for a variety of citizen science projects.
I’m relatively new to citizen science, but not one to look at the dwindling numbers of insects and animals in my neighborhood. There were never more than two bumblebees on my catmint all summer, and the red fox I saw frolicking in the snow in winter hasn’t returned.
By submitting sighting information, I can help draw attention to dwindling wildlife populations and fragile ecosystems. And you can too.
Is there an app that speaks to your heart?
Install it today, learn all about it and start submitting comments.
When you engage with fellow participants, know that you are contributing to an ever-evolving picture of our natural world that will guide us into the future.
Are you participating in citizen science? Share your suggestions in the comment section below!
If you’re interested in seeing wildlife in your yard, you might want to read these articles further:
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