Friday, May 8, 2015

Part 2 Citizen Science + Civic Hacking: Fifteen Projects

Below are fifteen examples of citizen science projects that could be considered civic hacks, or could be leveraged in a way to create civic hacks. Today's post is a follow-up to yesterday's post "Part 1 Citizen Science + Civic Hacking: Overview," which gave a general overview of citizen science and its connections to civic hacking.

Some of these citizen science projects are directly relevant to Appleton or Wisconsin, while others have more of a national or global focus. Most people at the June 6 "DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015" will likely be primarily interested in civic hacks that directly impact us locally, but others may want to discuss or work on projects that affect more than just their local community. If any of these citizen science projects sound really worthwhile or intriguing to you, click on the links, or Google that topic for more information.

(1) Open Water Initiative from Public Lab

The Open Water Initiative "supports communities who seek to investigate, address, and share information about the water quality issues that concern them. From detecting oil contamination to measuring water conductivity, the Public Lab community aims to develop a set of tools for collecting, interpreting and sharing water chemistry data."

In addition to this Public Lab water monitoring project, there are similar citizen science projects such as the UWEX Water Action Volunteers (WAV), for which the monitoring near Appleton appears to be done by Central Wisconsin River Keepers. (See also WAV events and general UWEX water monitoring info.)

On Sunday, my post will cover water monitoring in more detail.

(2) Open Air Initiative from Public Lab

The Open Air Initiative "supports the work of individuals and groups across the globe focused on creating better indoor and outdoor air quality for their communities. From interest in measuring the amount of silica dust in the air to creating an at home set-up for recording refinery flares, the Public Lab community is working toward creating easy, understandable, accessible tools and techniques for monitoring airborne toxics."

Another air monitoring citizen science project that could be copied, leveraged or maybe done in conjunction with the Open Air Initiative is the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Village Green project.

Climate Tracker is another air monitoring project to consider. The article "Clean Air Council Climate Tracker Will Track Pollution In Real Time," and the project page "Clean Air Council's Open Climate Tracker" explain more about this air quality project.

Sunday's post will also have more info about air monitoring.

(3) greenSTEM

The greenSTEM Network "connects students to the environment by monitoring and mining data from gardens, green roofs, and various types of green stormwater infrastructure. Using low-cost, DIY sensor kits and open-source code, the greenSTEM Network displays real-time environmental data (such as soil moisture, precipitation, sunlight, and temperature) to help students maintain healthy school gardens, learn about water-related issues, and conduct scientific experiments and analyses." greenSTEM was launched at the 2013 TechCamp hackathon in Philadelphia and further developed at a 2013 AT&T Edutech Hackathon. This civic hack survived long past its launch for several reasons, as discussed in "Why this hackathon project is still growing 18 months later".
"While most hackathon projects are run by volunteers, greenSTEM was unique because Fritch was able to make it part of his job...The money was never a driving point, the developers said. There was no expectation that there would be money behind greenSTEM when they first started working on it. Still, the money helped, especially because it was a hardware project and there are equipment costs associated with that...greenSTEM had several opportunities to keep working on the project, like at the April 2013 AT&T Edutech Hackathon...A word of advice to hackathon teams: don’t take it personally when team members drop out or lose interest, Nies said. There was one point when the greenSTEM team was nearly a dozen people strong. Today, it’s a team of three."
(4) Urban Forest Map

One civic hack that's applicable to most Midwest cities is a Tree Map or Urban Forest Map. The Wired article "The Plan to Map Every Tree in San Francisco" explains how and why the Urban Forest Map local tree inventory was created.
"Every tree in San Francisco will soon be accounted for online...We’re going to publish the most up-to-date data from our data sources. Then, from that point on, we’re going to allow the community to add and edit and update that information,” said Amber Bieg, the project manager of the Urban Forest Map project...The new website combines two trends: citizen science and local data projects...photographing and tagging the trees in your neighborhood may be a perfect application for citizen science. Conducting tree surveys is expensive for local governments, costing $3 per tree, Bieg estimates. “If you are LA and you have 10 million trees, you’re spending 30 million dollars,” Bieg said. “That’s bigger than the entire urban forestry budget...It was really inefficient for one individual or even a group to go out with GPS units and survey trees.” Instead, the people of the community could survey their own trees."
For info on a similar project, check out the urban forest project in Grand Rapids, Michigan. An alternate tool for creating open tech maps of local trees is the OpenTreeMap website.

(5) Firefly Watch

The Nature Conservancy has a good article explaining the Firefly Watch citizen science project. This is a project I would want to work on if I was a kid or if I had young children. I used to catch fireflies in Mason jars on my cousin's Michigan dairy farm on hot summer evenings as a boy.
"Do you have fond memories of fireflies? Does it seem like there are fewer fireflies around than when you were a kid?...Firefly Watch is a project dedicated to finding out more about firefly populations and they need your help. By submitting information about firefly sightings, you will help scientists answer important questions about fireflies  and assess the need for conservation...Fireflies are special. They stand out as one of few bioluminescent critters that live on land. “I realized that people really care about fireflies,” says Don Salvatore, Firefly Watch coordinator and science educator at the Museum of Science in Boston. “They have had wonderful experiences watching and chasing fireflies when they were young and now they want to share those experiences with their own children...Many people have come up to me at the museum and asked what is happening to fireflies. They used to see them all the time when they were kids but
haven’t seen any in many years,” Salvatore explains. That’s why the museum created Firefly Watch. They realized that science needs more data on fireflies and hope that with enough citizen science help they will be able to understand the cause of the decline and find a way to address the problem."
For brevity's sake, projects 6 through 14 will just have a short paragraph from their website explaining them...

(6) Moon Zoo (from Zooniverse)
"The Moon is perhaps the most familiar object in the night sky, but it still has its mysteries...The aim of Moon Zoo is to provide detailed crater counts for as much as the Moon’s surface as possible. Unlike here on Earth where weather quickly erodes any signs of all but the most recent impacts, craters on the lunar surface stay almost until eternity. That means that the number of craters on a particular piece of the surface tells us how old it is. This technique is used all over the Solar System, but the Moon is particularly important because we have ground truth — samples brought back by the Apollo missions — which allow us to calibrate our estimates. Planetary scientists have always carried out this kind of analysis on large scales, but with your help and the fabulous LRO images then we should be able to uncover the finer details of the Moon’s history."
(7) Notes from Nature
"People have been collecting specimens from the natural world for centuries - minerals, plants, fungi and animals...For the information held in these collections to be used to its full potential there must be better digital access to these data. Most natural history collections are housed in museum cabinets, where they are not easily available to citizens and researchers...The Notes from Nature transcription project is a citizen science platform built to address this problem by digitizing the world’s biological collections one record at a time...Help museum staff and scientists by transcribing the labels and ledgers that have been meticulously recorded and stored for the very reason that they might be someday be useful."
(8) Bat Detective
"There are lots of different methods to detect bat calls but they all involve using a special ultrasonic microphone to pick up bat calls (a bat detector) and to transform these into something we can hear or see...Typically many hours of recordings are made at night by researchers using bat detectors and the most difficult part of the process is finding bat calls in these recordings! For example, for a 1 hour recording it will take 6 hours to go through the files to find all the calls and detail them. There are existing automatic computer programmes that find calls in recordings, but these aren’t very good at finding calls in poor recordings...Existing programmes also can’t tell the difference between the different types of bat calls...Humans are absolutely fantastic at hearing and seeing the difference between a bat and a non-bat call, the different types of calls and what sequence a call belongs in. We need your help going through our recordings to pick out the different calls. The ultimate goal is to use your classifications to make a new automatic programme that researchers all over the world can use to extract information out of their recordings, making it really easy to track populations of bats. This will make understanding how bat populations are being effected by global change much easier."
(9) The Microplastics Project
"Have you heard of microplastics?  Every time you wash your clothes, you release 2,000 into the water system. And they’re showing up in ocean water from Maine to Palau, killing some of the wildlife that mistakenly eat them and leaching toxins into the food web. But now you can help–as a citizen scientist. The ASC Microplastics Project is calling on sailors, kayakers, surfers, paddleboarders, and other ocean enthusiasts to submit water samples. And soon, they’ll be expanding their sampling to fresh water, so that they can better understand upstream sources of the microplastics." [from The Nature Conservancy article]
(10) Penguin Watch
"Currently, there are numerous serious threats to marine predators in the Southern Ocean: namely climate change, fisheries, and direct human disturbance...As top predators, penguins are considered sentinels of changes within their ecosystem. Because penguins spend the majority of their life in water and fall at the top of the food chain, any variations in their populations may represent larger changes to the dynamic Antarctic ecosystem. We hope to measure these changes year-round at a large geographical range of study sites in order to better understand how threats to the ecosystem disrupt the dynamics of resident wildlife....Our camera-monitoring program currently consists of 50 cameras throughout the Southern Ocean and along the Antarctic Peninsula, overlooking colonies of Gentoo, Chinstrap, Adélie, and King penguins. The cameras take images of the penguins year-round...we are working to develop a recognition tool by which computers can automatically count every penguin individual in an image...we hope to improve the management of data from imagery and answer novel questions about wildlife dynamics that would otherwise be impossible. We need your help annotating the hundreds of thousands of images taken over the past three years to turn images into numbers, which can then be used to answer novel questions about these penguin populations...Your notations on the images will also aid in “training” a computer to automatically recognize penguin individuals."
(11) mPING
"The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Oklahoma are giving regular folks an opportunity to fiddle with weather reporting. Using crowdsourcing, the mobile Precipitation Identification Near the Ground app collects geographic, winter precipitation data from users. The mPING app also links to a map showing weather reports sent in by locals...The free app is currently available for the iOS and Android operating systems..."The purpose of PING is to give us ground observations of precipitation types that are not well observed from automatic systems," Kim Elmore, a science researcher working on the project, told All Things Considered. He says the gathered information will be used to build algorithms for newly upgraded radars. The data can also help officials and the public prepare for severe weather, he says." [from NPR article; see also the NOAA mPING fact sheet and an alternative citizen science weather project, CoCoRaHS.]
(12) Great Sunflower Project
"People all over the country are collecting data on pollinators in their yards, gardens, schools and parks. Together, we take counts of the number and types of pollinators visiting plants (especially sunflowers)...Thanks to our thousands of observers, we can determine where pollinator service is strong or weak compared to averages...Over the past few years, scientific studies have suggested that both honey bee and native bee populations are in trouble. What we don't know is how this is affecting pollination of our gardens, crops and wild lands. In 2008, we started this project as a way to gather information about our urban, suburban and rural bee populations and to give you the tools to learn about what is happening with the pollinators in your can participate by watching a plant and recording how many pollinators visit, or recording pollinators as you take your favorite hike!"
(13) Monarch Butterflies and Journey North
"Migrating monarchs are one of nature’s wonders — they can travel up to 500 miles in just three days on their 2,500 mile journey from Mexico to Canada and back again...But there’s a lot we still don’t know about monarchs. Which is [why] Journey North is looking for your citizen science observations on the backyard behaviors of this iconic and threatened insect...The migration and the butterflies are in danger because of threats like climate change and changes in agriculture that have limited the amount of milkweed, a key plant for monarch conservation...Your observations can help scientists determine the abundance of monarchs and find out if they are overwintering in new locations. The data could help them answer questions like, how do monarchs know when to go to Mexico, how do they know where to fly, and why do monarchs migrate? Answering questions about when butterflies travel, where they go, and whether or not the timing of their migrations has changed could help scientists to understand how climate change impacts their journey. It could also help in advising when and where people should plant milkweed."
(14) Hummingbirds at Home
"Hummingbirds at Home is a new citizen science initiative from Audubon that will help scientists understand how climate change, flowering patterns and feeding by people are impacting hummingbirds. On the Hummingbirds at Home website you can report on hummingbirds and their feeding behavior at any time of year.  Using the website or a free mobile app makes it easy to report sightings and learn more about these remarkable birds. You can participate at any level – from reporting a single sighting to documenting hummingbird activity in your community throughout the life of the project.  Help us document the hummingbirds journey and direct change in the future to ensure these incredible birds do not disappear."
(15) American Gut
American Gut is significantly different from the other citizen science opportunities above. For starters, this one will cost you at least $99. It's different also in that the connection to civic hacking is less obvious. But if you look at the big picture, this could lead to improved health in your community or around the country. As the New York Times article "Some of My Best Friends Are Germs" says about the project:
"I can tell you the exact date that I began to think of a superorganism...It happened on March 7. That’s when I opened my e-mail to find a huge, processor-choking file of charts and raw data from a laboratory located at the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder. As part of a new citizen-science initiative called the American Gut project, the lab sequenced my microbiome — that is, the genes not of “me,” exactly, but of the several hundred microbial species with whom I share this body...In sheer numbers, these microbes and their genes dwarf us. It turns out that we are only 10 percent human: for every human cell that is intrinsic to our body, there are about 10 resident microbes...To the extent that we are bearers of genetic information, more than 99 percent of it is microbial. And it appears increasingly likely that this “second genome,” as it is sometimes called, exerts an influence on our health as great and possibly even greater than the genes we inherit from our parents. But while your inherited genes are more or less fixed, it may be possible to reshape, even cultivate, your second genome...This humbling new way of thinking about the self has large implications for human and microbial health, which turn out to be inextricably linked. Disorders in our internal ecosystem...may predispose us to obesity and a whole range of chronic diseases, as well as some infections...when the contents of a lean donor’s microbiota were transferred to the guts of male patients with metabolic syndrome, the researchers found striking improvements in the recipients’ sensitivity to insulin, an important marker for metabolic health. Somehow, the gut microbes were influencing the patients’ metabolisms."
In this coming Sunday's post, I'll present a closer look at two citizen science projects that have strong connections to local civic hacking -- the monitoring of environmental conditions in our community's air and water.

If you'd like to talk with others about one of the above citizen science civic hacks or a different one of high interest to you, participate in the June 6 DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015 (click here to see the agenda).

If you're not registered yet for the civic hackathon, REGISTER TODAY for this free event!!


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