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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 02/25/2009

Citizen Science & Global Change: What You Can Do

By Ann Posegate

Wx and the City

* Getting Warmer: Full Forecast | More Pathetic: Winter or Wizards? *

A Missouri farmer and son collected hailstones in spring 1975 for Project Dustorm, a collaborative project to examine thunderstorms and hail formation. Courtesy University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

Global warming. There -- I said it. (I wonder what comments would be posted without me writing any more?)

With recent reports of increased global temperature projections, birds spending winters further north and many other environmental and climatic changes, I wonder: what's going on in our own backyards? How do the average Jane and Joe know if there are changes in local weather patterns, seasonal migrations or blooming dates for their favorite flowers? How can science be made more accessible?

Enter Citizen Science.

Keep reading for more on citizen science and a list of projects you and your family can take part in...

Lately it seems that everywhere I turn, there's a new monitoring program that helps non-scientists observe the natural world and fill in the gaps of scientific studies. I'm all for it. Science -- especially of a huge concept like the atmosphere, amazing as it is -- can seem complicated, nerdy and boring. (If you're reading this, you've probably heard something like this before: "Weather?...Oh, neat. Like on TV. So is it going to rain tomorrow? Cool. Yeah, so 'bout the Steelers?")

Science can also be presented in win-or-lose terms. Citizen science projects can instill a sense of trust in the scientific method again. Why not introduce the public to relevant science by actually training us to do the science? Many eyes can be better than two, provided the eyes are well-trained and consistent, especially when it comes to major events like seasonal bird migration. Better still, some scientific studies depend on input from engaged citizens -- take spotting tornado touch-downs or compiling snowfall totals from the huge snowstorm that D.C. hasn't received this winter...Citizen scientists fill in the gaps.

To make big concepts like global climate a little easier to digest, how about helping to observe changes happening at the local level? For example, the bloom dates of over 500 Washington-area plant species were recorded from 1970 to 2000, and 89 percent of the species exhibited trends of flowering earlier in the year. Among these, cherry blossoms were found to be blooming about seven days earlier in 2000 than they were in 1970.*

Here are a few citizen science projects to start with. Get outdoors, and bring the kids or friends along too. Make science fun...

CoCoRaHS - Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network
Skywarn - severe weather spotting for the D.C./Baltimore National Weather Service
IceWatch -- freeze and thaw dates for local water bodies
Project BudBurst - phenology (seasonal changes in plants - starts soon, in early spring)
Journey North -- monarch butterflies and other migrating creatures
Hands on the Land -- various projects for classrooms or families
eBird & other projects at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

*Abu-Asab MS, et al. "Earlier plant flowering in spring as a response to global warming in the Washington, DC area." Biodiversity and Conservation 10 (2000) 597-612.

By Ann Posegate  | February 25, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Climate Change, Posegate, Science, Wx and the City  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Which is More Pathetic: Winter or Wizards?
Next: PM Update: Temperatures Trending "Toastier"


i grew up around here on a lake. i remember - it seems like - the lake used to freeze more often than it does now. i remember skating on it almost every year. though this year. though i haven't been a good citizen scientist and don't have any stats to back that up. and this year it froze for a good looong time and there was plenty of skating... bring on global cooling! now if we can just synch it up with some moisture we'd get SNOW!

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | February 25, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I grew up in NOVA in the 50's & 60's. We used to ice skate every winter, sometimes as early as Christmas time & would be able 2 skate until mid Feb. I found a picture of my late wife & I skating on a pond at Christmas of 67, we got married in 70. I managed Fountainhead Park on the Occoquan from 78- 93 & used to skate on it every winter until the late 80's, that's when it seemed to freeze over less & less. Now rivers & ponds freeze over enough to skate once every 4 or 5 yrs & usually only 4 a week or 2.

Posted by: VaTechBob | February 25, 2009 7:04 PM | Report abuse

Phenology, the study of blooming dates or first occurence of an event, say, the first cherry blossoms in the Tidal Basin, should be one sensitive indicator of global warming. Another such indicator should be isokeraunics, the study of number of days with thunderstorms per year at a given location.

If the cherry trees are blooming earlier on the average and we are having more thunderstorm days per year, it's a sure sign we are experiencing global warming.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | February 25, 2009 7:22 PM | Report abuse

Let's be careful, you can't extrapolate a single localized measures to "global" warming. However, getting large numbers of local measures such as those around the world then you have additional evidence for global temperature increases. Assuming temperature changes as measured by correlates (like earlier blooms or number of thunderstorms) are valid of course.

Posted by: John-Burke | February 26, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Quick note: Although it's not weather or climate-related, I just learned about another new citizen science project called the Quake-Catcher Network that monitors earthquakes around the world using sensors in and attached to internet-connected computers.

Check it out:

Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | February 26, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse

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