Archive for the ‘volunteer water monitors’ tag

A Picture Saves 1,000 Streams – Water Quality Monitoring on Your Smartphone

By September 9th, 2013 at 10:36 am | Comment 1

This post is part of this week’s featured projects about water quality monitoring. Take a look!

Creek Watch iphone appDespite over 70% of the Earth’s surface being covered in water, one in nine people do not have access to an improved water source.(1) Contaminated water kills more people than all wars, crimes and terrorism combined yet more people have a mobile phone than a toilet.(1,2,3) Every day, on our way to work or school or play, we encounter local water supplies, subconsciously noting their health. Could improving water quality be as simple as snapping a photo on your smart phone?

Creek Watch was developed by IBM research – Almaden, in consultation with the California Water Resources Control Board’s Clean Water Team, to empower citizen scientists to observe and monitor the health of their local watersheds. According to Christine Robson, an IBM computer scientist who helped develop Creek Watch, “Creek Watch lets the average citizen contribute to the health of their water supply – without PhDs, chemistry kits and a lot of time.”

Creek Watch ScreenshotWatersheds, land where all the water in creeks and streams drain into the same aquifer, river, lake, estuary or ocean, surround us. Conservation biologist Erick Burres of California’s Citizen Monitoring Program: The Clean Water Team explains, “Creek Watch as a learning tool introduces people to their streams and water quality concepts.”

Once the free iPhone application is downloaded, citizen scientists are asked to take a photo of their local waterway and answer three simple questions: What is the water level? (Dry? Some? Full?) What is its rate of flow? (Still? Slow? Fast?) And, how much trash is there? (None? Some? A lot?) The photo, GPS tag, and answers are then uploaded in real-time to a central database accessible to water experts around the world. Water resource managers track pollution, develop sound management strategies for one of our most valuable resources, and implement effective environmental stewardship programs.

Since its launch in November 2010, over 4000 citizen scientists in 25 countries have monitored creeks and streams, providing invaluable information to over-extended water resource managers; water quality data that would otherwise be unavailable. Watershed biologist Carol Boland is using this data to prioritize pollution cleanup efforts in San Jose, California. Similarly, local citizen scientists are comparing their observations to previous years as well as data collected around the world on the Creek Watch map to help inform local voluntary stewardship programs.

Creek Watch is increasing global awareness about watersheds and environmental protection. This is just the beginning. Future applications will allow citizens to monitor every aspect of their surroundings – from urban services to wildlife distribution, noise pollution to air quality and even global warming; in order to solve some of the biggest challenges of our day.

Join thousands of citizen scientists monitoring our planet’s water supply as you head to work, school, and play this week. Could your picture save a thousand streams?

Photo : IBM Research

1. Estimated with data from WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation. (2012). Progress on Sanitation and Drinking-Water, 2012 Update.
2. International Telecommunication Union (ITU). (2011). The World in 2011 ICT Facts and Figures.
3. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). (2011). State of World Population 2011, People and possibilities in a world of 7 billion.

Dr. Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and writer.  Her previous work has included a Mirzayan Science and Technology Graduate Policy Fellowship at the National Academy of Sciences (2012), co-development of several of the final science policy questions with (2012), consulting on the development of the Seattle Science Festival EXPO day (2012), contributing photographer for JF Derry’s book “Darwin in Scotland” (2010) and outreach projects to numerous to count.  Not content to stay stateside, Melinda received a B.S in Microbiology from the University of Washington (2001) before moving to Edinburgh, Scotland where she received a MSc (2002) and PhD (2008) from the University of Edinburgh trying to understand how antibiotics kill bacteria.  Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science; but if you can, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80, training for two half-marathons, or plotting her next epic adventure.

Monitoring Water Quality

By September 5th, 2013 at 12:09 am | Comment

This post is part of this week’s  featured projects about water quality monitoring. Take a look!

Clean water. We all need it. It is necessary for human health, food security, economic growth, and preservation of natural habitats. Sadly, human activity often threatens water quality. Tracking water quality is a crucial step is maintaining safe water. It is also a huge effort.

Across the nation, individuals volunteer their time to monitor the waters in their local streams, bays and waterways. Monitoring activities include testing water chemistry, species surveys, physical assessments of watershed characteristics and surrounding habits, among others. The data collected enable researchers, policymakers, watershed organizations and local citizens to understand how our activities affect water quality, an important step learning how to protect these valuable resources.

With so many individual groups, understanding and implementing training and testing is a challenge. Recognizing this, the Extension Volunteer Monitoring Network was established. By increasing support and communication between groups, the hope is to build a cohesive “best practices” handbook for current and future groups. The network has made a significant push to help groups to get started, and to build the capacity of existing groups. Already, their website is rich with resources on training guides, equipment suggestions, to validation studies which individual groups can use to grow and develop their efforts.

Most recently, the project launched a completely updated online directory of volunteer water monitoring programs in the United States. Their directory map provides links to over 400 programs which represent 1800 different water monitoring initiatives. All programs listed were contacted to ensure they were still active and previously unlisted programs were added as well. The website also has a list of the monitoring programs.

Here at SciStarter, we have a number of water-related programs that are certainly worth checking out. Here is a small sample:

Creek Freaks – Participants gather information on stream health, posting the information on an interactive map.

Great Lakes Environmental Monitoring – Help monitor water quality around the Great Lakes.

Wading for Water Sticks – Volunteers study water sticks insects and their water environments.

Marine Debris Tracker – A mobile app that tracks debris along your local coastline or waterway.

SeaNet – Volunteers measure the effects of offshore developments on seabirds

Secchi Dip-In – Annually in July, participants are asked to take a transparency measurement in a local waterway. (Deadline for this year was July 21.)

To browse over 600 active citizen science projects, visit SciStarter’s project finder.

Carolyn Graybeal holds a PhD in neuroscience from Brown University. She is a former National Academies of Science Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow during which time she worked with the Marian Koshland Science Museum. In addition the intricacies of the human brain, she is interested in the influence of education and mass media in society’s understanding of science.


Whales and Glaciers: A Citizen Science Adventure

By August 17th, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Comment

Scouting for arctic terns at Mendenhall Glacier (Kate Atkins)

Scouting for arctic terns at Mendenhall Glacier (Photo: Kate Atkins)

Guest post by Kate Atkins

If your first thoughts when you hear the word “cruise” are fruity drinks with paper umbrellas, jet skis, and late nights in the hot tub: think again.

Replace the hot tub with Mendenhall Glacier, the fruity drink with test tubes of fresh stream water, and the jet ski with a whale watching boat, and you begin to get the picture. If you have the fortune to find yourself on a ship through Alaska’s Inside Passage, you’ll find an extra citizen science kick in Juneau. The Whales and Glacier Science Adventure, run by Gastineau Guiding, does not disappoint.

On the surface, the excursion seems little different from any One Day in Juneau itinerary: visiting the mighty Mendenhall, going whale watching. (I would add eating at Tracy’s King Crab Shack to the list as well, but you’re not here for menu tips.)

But on this excursion, participants collect real data that will be put to real use. On the day my family and I joined the tour, our guides were a PhD student in evolutionary biology, and a Juneau native on her way to her first biology degree. Jason and Annika did a great job engaging a group whose ages ranged from 7 to 70, which is no small feat in itself. Each of us emerged having learned something new and having gotten our hands dirty.

In the Mendenhall area, we stopped at a small fresh water stream to test water quality. Our guides provided us with kits to measure dissolved oxygen, temperature, pH and salinity. In a rapidly changing, successional ecosystem, these data are forming the baseline for tracking change as the glacier continues to melt, and as tourist infrastructure evolves around it. The data will be shared with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Juneau Watershed Partnership and other organizations for analysis in myriad projects. Read the rest of this entry »

Conversations about conservation: public participation in scientific research

By April 14th, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Comment 1


Energy is a strange thing.  It floats around you, fills you up until you’re about ready to burst, and then it skips off, leaving you to keep up as best you can.  Last Thursday and Friday were two full days of such energy, when 60 professionals from such exotic places as Alaska, Colombia and New Jersey got together to discuss why and how public participation in scientific research (PPSR) is necessary if we are to save the world’s biodiversity.  The amazing thing about this workshop wasn’t so much that these people had a similar goal (after all, who doesn’t want to save the world?), but rather that the participants brought such a diversity of backgrounds, academic disciplines and institutions to the table.

Although the participation of citizens in scientific research goes back centuries, it is only very recently that there has been a push and pull from many different areas, leading to an amazing expansion of this kind of research and a demand for new ideas, ways to engage, and methods to understand how and why this can ultimately lead us forward in conservation.  The 50+ projects that were represented during this workshop illustrated this expansion not only by what they had in common – citizen engagement, data collection, and links to better conservation management – but also by what they didn’t.  While some projects, like FrogWatch USA or Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, invite participants from across the United States to collect data on a wide geographical scale, other projects such as Ndee bini’ bida’ilzaahi (Pictures of Apache Land) and the Fresno Bird Count are place-specific, uniquely adapted to the needs of their local community and natural environment. Read the rest of this entry »

Citizen science for a rainy day

By March 24th, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Comment

Rainlog screen cap

So, apparently, it rains in Arizona…Just kidding. Of course, it does!

Despite being one of the driest states in the U.S., Arizona still has its share of rain. In fact, there is a network of over 1000 citizen scientists who are monitoring that rain to help track drought status and support resource management decisions in Arizona and surrounding states.

The project is called Rainlog, and all you need to participate is a home or garden rain gauge, access to the Internet, and a few minutes to enter your rain measurements. All the data will be available in real-time on a Google Map.

If you don’t have a handy rain gauge sitting around, you can purchase one right on the Rainlog site. For $12, you’ll get a weather-resistent Tru-Check rain gauge, which allows you to measure from small rainfall amounts all the way up to six inches of rain.

Examples of a rain gauge (

Examples of rain gauge (

Why does Rainlog need your help? Turns out that Arizona has highly variable precipitation, particularly during its monsoon season. Having lived there for 18 years, I can personally vouch for that! A better understanding of rainfall patterns will help local, county, and state organizations plan for droughts and manage watershed activities.

Read the rest of this entry »