Citizen Scientists Monitor Global Warming

You don't need a degree to contribute to climate change research.

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Climate scientists are not omnipresent. Because there are so many places in the world and not enough scientists to observe all of them, they're asking for your help in observing signs of climate change across the world. The citizen scientist movement, writes Dan Shapley of the Daily Green, encourages ordinary Joes to observe a very specific research interest - birds, trees, flowers budding, etc. - and send their observations to a giant database to be observed by professional scientists. This helps a small number of scientists track a large amount of data that they would never be able to gather on their own. Much like citizen journalists helping large publications cover a hyper-local beat, citizen scientists are attuned to the conditions where they live. All that's needed to become one is a few minutes each day or each week to gather data and send it in.

Citizen science makes it easy for kids to learn firsthand about climate change, research, and the scientific method while they connect with nature. Spring is an especially good time to get started, because the length of winter is closely monitored for the effects of global warming. Here are a few great climate change-related citizen science projects for observant wannabe scientists and their kids.

  • Cooperative Weather Observer Program -- Organized by the National Weather Service, this project uses volunteers to help collect weather data once a day. It's a little more involved than some of the other citizen science projects, but your time will go to a good cause: according to the project's website, the data collected "plays a critical role in efforts to recognize and evaluate the extent of human impacts on climate."
  • Project BudBurst -- This project uses citizen scientists to learn more about when plants begin to bud - a date that gets earlier and earlier each year, in some areas. Participants are asked to observe various species of plants and report phases of growth - such as first leaves or first ripened fruit - along with latitude and longitude.
  • Mountain Watch -- Meant for hikers or those who live in mountainous areas, Mountain Watch utilizes volunteers who regularly hit the trails to look for signs of pollution and air quality problems. All you have to do is download a data sheet, hike to a summit, take a picture of the view and fill out a questionnaire about what you see, once you've breathed in the (hopefully fresh) mountain air.
  • World Water Monitoring Day -- On Sept. 18th, ordinary citizens around the world will be able to test their local water source for acidity and clarity, but the bodies of water should be observed all year round. Participants can use their own testing equipment or order a kit from the site for $13. Last year, data from 70 countries was compiled.
  • Project PigeonWatch -- Just to prove that you don't need to live in the woods to be a citizen scientist, city-dwellers can observe some of their most-hated neighbors: pigeons. Your observations can tell ornithologists at Cornell about how birds adapt to human surroundings.
  • You can see a full list, which includes more species-specific projects, at the Daily Green.