Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Become a Citizen Scientist by Shelly Taylor

Gardening appeals to people for various reasons.  Some like the idea of producing their own food, some appreciate the beauty of flowers and well-planned landscapes, some find it relaxing.  Because gardening necessarily involves watching plants grow, well or not so well, and observing the weather (and who isn't interested in the weather, especially recently), many gardeners sooner or later become interested in the underlying science of botany, and/or  horticulture, or meteorology.  That is one of the reasons some people become master gardeners, who receive training and can then share what they have learned.  Others begin to read about science on their own, or take classes, or research on the Internet.

In these times of economic strain and government cutbacks, scientific organizations have especially limited funds.  Some are making use of  a way to expand their knowledge and impact through enlisting just such interested members of the general public as  "citizen science" volunteers.   It is a win/win situation; the volunteers get training and the opportunity to participate in studies with scientists; the scientists get expanded access to useful data through the volunteers.

 One local example of such an opportunity is CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network, run at Colorado State University and supported in part by the National Science Foundation.  We all know that one area can receive a lot of rain or snow while another, nearby, gets little or none.  There aren't enough official weather stations to pick up all these local variations, which are of serious interest to meteorologists, entomologists, and insurance experts, among many other groups.  Information about volunteering to collect and report data can be found at www.cocorahs.org.

Yourgardenshow.com, a website enabling people to share information about gardening, has a Citizen Science section, links to three interesting projects.  One, The Great Sunflower Project is seeking people to track bees pollinating a particular plant you choose.   Bees, as many of us know, are of great economic interest to our food supply, and are disappearing in many places.  Their direct link is www.greatsunflower.org.  Another Yourgardenshow linked project is Allergy Agents, a project in which you track one or more specific allergy-inducing plant's phenophases, the different stages in the plant's life, such as initial spring growth, flowering, and fruit.  You can get advance notice of when pollen is imminent, as well as more information on allergies.  And finally, there is Season Spotting, in which you choose a  calibration plant, and report its phenophases.  This information not only gets you more in tune with your local community and climate, but can provide useful information about climate changes.

 Googling "citizen science" can find you many other useful links.  Of particular interest is scienceforcitizens.net, which allows you to look for projects of interest by discipline, such as birds, insects, or astronomy.  It even allows you to do an advanced search with a number of search elements.  These projects are also of use, of course, for researchers seeking citizen collaborators.

It might be worth your while to take a look at some of these projects. At the very least they are interesting, and you might find it rewarding to become involved.