Science is the most reliable system of gaining new knowledge about our world. Members of the general public now have opportunities to help science researchers collect data and learn useful scientific information. Citizen scientist volunteers donate their time, effort, and resources for a reward to their personal interest, intellectual challenge or curiosity, entertainment, social interaction, and/or enhancing humanity. For most projects, a science background is not necessary to participate. All volunteers on a project follow a specified data collection method and have access with others to the data. Some research studies that involve citizen science volunteers end up being published in technical journals. This webpage lists a variety of citizen science projects relevant to northeast Washington and north Idaho.
AIR QUALITY MONITORING
Local air quality (AQ) affects how we live and breathe. Like the weather, outdoor air quality can change from day-to-day or even hour-to-hour. Of special concern for human health is the polluting presence of fine particles of solid or liquid matter that measure 2.5 micrometers or less (<1/30th the diameter of a human hair). Those particles are labeled PM2.5 and are visible only by an electron microscope. Major sources of PM2.5 include motor vehicles, power plants, residential wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning, dust, and other industrial processes.
GLOBE At Night
GLOBE At Night is a project to collect data about night sky light pollution. Citizen scientists can volunteer to measure the night sky brightness at their location and submit their observations via a computer or smartphone. Artificial lighting under the night sky affects electricity consumption, animal and plant behavior, and of course optimal astronomy. For instance, researchers know that nighttime migrating birds are attracted to the horizon glow from city lighting, and this phenomenon can alter a normally-straight flight path resulting in more flight energy expended. Volunteers need not be an astronomer to participate because the project provides online night sky references and instructions.
Nature’s Notebook is an online plant (and animal) “phenology” monitoring program. Citizen scientist volunteers observe and document the progression of plant development during a growing season. (This is way more interesting than watching paint dry.) Phenology influences the abundance and distribution of organisms, ecosystem services, food webs, and cycles of water and carbon. Changes in temperature and precipitation influence phenology, so traditional knowledge must be updated to optimize crop tending, treat forest pests, assess environmental harm, and facilitate many other activities.
GLOBE Clouds is a project to photograph clouds and aircraft contrails from the ground and then compare that view to one from a NASA space satellite. Clouds are a key influence on local weather by affecting the temperature and energy balance of our planet. By observing clouds in this way, meteorologists and other researchers get information about temperature, moisture, and wind at different heights in the atmosphere to make weather forecasts more accurate.
Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit backyard feeders. Citizen scientist volunteers count birds by species from November through early April. The data is used by ornithologists to document and understand long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance, changes in the winter range of feeder birds, and how disease is spread from visiting birds. The information, when combined with comparable breeding season data, can alert scientists to a population decline in time for a managed recovery effort. This project charges a small fee for participation.
eBird is a popular birder application that lets citizen scientists document bird sightings in a manner that is useful to researchers. Bird location, time of year, and behavior help formulate conservation efforts for bird habitat management, population assessments, and protection via laws and policy. Half a billion bird observations from around the world have been collected so far. eBird data contributed to hundreds of conservation decisions and peer-reviewed papers, thousands of student projects, and helped inform research in the fields of ecology, ornithology, socioeconomics, artificial intelligence, and computer science.
Migratory Dragonfly Partnership
The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership promotes voluntary efforts to increase scientific knowledge about five species of migratory dragonflies found in our area. Citizen scientists monitor the timing, duration, and direction of travel for spring and/or fall migrating dragonflies. Yet another option is for participants to watch the same pond or wetland throughout a year and document presence, emergence, and behavior. Dragonflies and damselflies are indicators of the presence or vitality of certain ecosystems and some pollutants such as mercury. They prey on mosquitoes and biting flies, but also become food for fish, amphibians, birds, bats, lizards, and spiders.
Bumble Bee Watch
Bumble Bee Watch is a collaborative effort to track and conserve North American’s bumble bees. Approximately 20 species are found in northeast Washington and north Idaho. Participating volunteers photograph specimens in their yard or elsewhere, identify them to species using online identification profiles, and upload the images to experts for verification. Bumble bees are more efficient plant pollinators than honey bees, so scientists are alarmed because certain species face a risk of extinction from pesticides, habitat loss, disease, and climate change.
iNaturalist is a one-stop website for recording your observations of the natural world. One of the world’s most popular nature apps, iNaturalist helps you identify the plants and animals around you. The list of accepted lifeforms is extensive: amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, mollusks, insects, spiders, plants, and fungi. A minimal or detailed record is acceptable, but detailed ones qualify for research use. Other observers or experts help with species identification, and the observation data is accessible by anyone. Scientists and land managers use the data to monitor local biodiversity.
Soil Collection Program
The Citizen Science Soil Collection Program is a not-for-profit entity that joins citizen science volunteers and biomedical researchers to search for new drug components from fungi in the soil. These discoveries could halt cancer cell growth, stop the spread of infectious pathogens, and kill life-threatening parasites. Some antibiotics, cholesterol medicines, and immuno-suppressants are already derived from fungi. Soil samples must originate from land within the USA and owned by the person submitting it.
SciStarter is an online database of more than 1,500 searchable citizen science projects. You can filter your search by a specific word, phrase, location, activity, topic, or participant qualification. You can find project activities listed by geographic location or participant age grouping. You can even find projects that are doable while fishing, on lunch break, hiking, in waters, at home, at night, or exclusively online. Let the fun begin.
Master Water Steward
IDAH2O Master Water Stewards is a program that trains citizen volunteers to understand and monitor water quality in local streams of Idaho and northeast Washington. Trained volunteers provide a vital public service because water quantity and quality can decline without noticeable clues to an untrained observer.