December 20, 2014

Dr. G’s #AGU14 Spotlight – Citizen Science

Posted by Laura Guertin

Although this topic may not have been on my radar at previous AGU Fall Meetings, citizen science (definition and background from National Geographic Education) had a strong presence in 2014. This is the seventh year citizen science has been the focus of a themed Education session, but this time, conference attendees could learn about the global impact and reach of citizen science through multiple sessions and individual presentations scattered across the week.

The three sessions dedicated to citizen science at AGU 2014 included:

U33A – Is Global Citizen Science the Next Big Science?

ED51E – Era of Citizen Science: Intersection of Outreach, Crowd-Sourced Data, and Scientific Research I

ED53A – Era of Citizen Science: Intersection of Outreach, Crowd-Sourced Data, and Scientific Research II Posters

I attended these three sessions, and I have to say that the session on global citizen science was incredible in helping me see not only the big picture but the impressive scale and global impacts these programs can have. The question that kicked off the session was simply this: can we take science from the hands of the few and put it in the hands of everyone? The presenters emphasized how citizen science contributes to understanding and stewardship, that it allows for connections to and within communities that care most about the world.

The first speaker, Hari Mix, spoke about Integrating Alpine Adventure and Citizen Science in the Greater Himalaya. Hari addressed how “play” in the outdoors could benefit the world, specifically tapping in to the hiking/climbing community. He presented examples of climbers collecting samples ranging from rocks to layers of snow/ice at high altitudes. Hari suggested that there are many possibilities and opportunities for citizen science if we tap in to base camps at these high peaks for long-term monitoring projects. And the sherpas in these communities know what is going on – they see the changes in the local environment, but they do not know the jargon or how or even with who to communicate their observations. Hari feels that science and monitoring can contribute to studies of route safety and development for climbers, especially during these times of changing climate. In summary, there is a community that already has a passion for the environment and is going out in to these “extreme” environments, and we should explore and expand upon these connections and collaborations between explorers and scientists and the people in the local communities to move scientific work forward.

The second speaker was Gregg Treinish, who addressed Conservation Kickstart- Catalyzing Conservation Initiatives Worldwide. Gregg is the founder of the nonprofit organization Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC), and organization whose mission is to “mobilize the outdoor community to gather targeted scientific data, driving conservation around the world.”  Gregg shared his own background and how he developed the passion for wanting to not only take advantage of the great outdoors, but how he can help other outdoor recreational adventurers preserve/conserve/protect these beautiful environments.  See Gregg in this ~15-minute video below from National Geographic Live! discuss his motivation for starting this organization and its successes.

During the session Q&A, Gregg was hesitant to say at a science conference (but hit the nail on the head) that scientists are not good at communicating outside their field – which is one of the challenges for the adventurers and explorers. Not only does the communication need to be clear for all parties in a project at the beginning, but it is important to close the loop and show people the results upon the conclusion of a project, to share what the data are and what they mean.  Perhaps those like Hari and Gregg have found one solution for scientists who are unable to forward their research objectives because of challenges such as scale, time, funding, physical limitations, etc.

Please don’t let my focus in this blog post minimize the outstanding citizen science contributions in the other sessions and at other times during the Fall Meeting! I look forward to following up with some of the other projects shared, such as the CrowdMag application, Globe at Night, and iCoast.  And I believe we will be hearing more from other groups and efforts assessing the scholarship of citizen science, such as the Citizen Science Association, Citizen Science Alliance, SciStarter, and Citizen Science at Cornell’s Lab or Ornithology.  For now, I’m so glad I had the opportunity at AGU to really see the big, global picture when it comes to citizen science.