Realizing the Value of Citizen Science Data.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015: 08:00
103 (Moscone South)
Waleed Abdalati, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, United States; Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, Boulder, CO, United States
Typical data sources for both basic and mission-focused environmental research include satellite sensors, in situ observations made by scientists, and data from well established and often government-sponsored networks. While these data sources enable substantial advances in understanding our environment, they are not always complete in the picture they present. By incorporating citizen science into our portfolio of observations, we gain a powerful complement to these traditional data sources, drawing on the enthusiasm and commitment of volunteer observers. While such data can be more difficult to calibrate or quality check, these challenges can be overcome by clear and simple protocols and consistent instrumentation. One such example is the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) in which thousands of volunteers in the United States and Canada use low-cost equipment to make point-measurements of rain, hail and snowfall near their homes or workplaces. All participants in CoCoRaHS make these measurements with the same $30 rain gauges and follow a well-established protocol in which they are trained. These observations feed into National Weather Service forecast models, sometimes directly influencing the issuing of alerts and warnings, and are used to both validate and improve these models. In other cases, observations can be more subjective, such as Buddhist monks in the Catskills documenting leaf fall, or the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count in which birds are surveyed annually as their habitats change. The uncertainty associated with such subjective measurements is far outweighed by the value of the data, and it can be reduced by increasing the numbers of observers and encouraging participation by the same observers year after year for consistent inputs. These citizen science efforts, and many others like them, provide tremendous scientific opportunities for complementing big-picture science with local variability, resulting in a more comprehensive understanding of our environment. In this presentation we will also argue that along with data, another by-product is increased science literacy, since participation encourages citizens to think about their surroundings and increases their awareness of environmental change.