Stories tagged citizen science


People from all walks of life are fascinated by weather and make routine measurements. The “Cooperative Network” operated by the National Weather Service (or NWS) is a network of several thousand volunteers from across the country that routinely make and report weather observations. This Coop has operated continuously since 1890. The group includes about 9,000 weather observes who systematically measure high and low temperatures, rainfall and snow accumulation every day. These observations are archived at the National Climatic Data Center and are a large part of the historical weather record of the country.

Another group, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow networks, or CoCoRaHS, includes 15,000 volunteers who help measure and report precipitation type and amounts every day. Observations of precipitation by a large group of volunteers are critical to understanding storms as precipitation varies widely from place to place even in a single storm. Such observations are useful for assessing flooding hazards and rapid snow melting. You can join CoCoRaHS at

There are also tens of thousands of citizens that serve as NWS severe weather spotters. The NWS relies on these storm spotters, along with radars, satellites and other data to supply observations that help in NWS’ decision making process of issuing and verifying severe weather warnings. The NWS is always looking for volunteers to help get the word out about severe storms. You can find out more about this group and sign up for classes and become a trained spotter at It is a good class to take as we approach severe weather season.

So, if you enjoy making weather observations, join one of these groups and be one of the nation's weather observers!


GLOBE at Night
GLOBE at NightCourtesy GLOBE at Night
(This post is a copy and paste of an email I received for this interesting citizen scientist activity...)

What would it be like without stars at night? What is it we lose? Starry night skies have given us poetry, art, music and the wonder to explore. A bright night sky (aka light pollution) affects energy consumption, health and wildlife too. Spend a few minutes to help scientists by measuring the brightness of your night sky. Join the GLOBE at Night citizen-science campaign. There are 5 GLOBE at Night campaigns in 2013: January 3 - 12, January 31 - February 9, March 3 - 12, March 31 - April 9, and April 29 - May 8. Make a difference and join the GLOBE at Night campaign.

GLOBE at Night is a worldwide, hands-on science and education program to encourage citizen-scientists worldwide to record the brightness of their night sky. During five select sets of dates in 2013, children and adults match the appearance of a constellation (Orion or Leo in the northern hemisphere, and Orion and Crux in the southern hemisphere) with seven star charts of progressively fainter stars. Participants then submit their choice of star chart with their date, time and location. This can be done by computer (after the measurement) or by smart phone or pad (during the measurement). From these data an interactive map of all worldwide observations is created. Over the past 7 years of 10-day campaigns, people in 115 countries have contributed over 83,000 measurements, making GLOBE at Night the most successful, light pollution citizen-science campaign to date. The GLOBE at Night website is easy to use, comprehensive, and holds an abundance of background information. Through GLOBE at Night, students, teachers, parents and community members are amassing a data set from which they can explore the nature of light pollution locally and across the globe.

Listen to a fun skit on GLOBE at Night in a 7-minute audio podcast here.


Have you ever wanted to get involved in scientific research, but figured you weren't qualified? It turns out that scientists need help from people like you all over the world. Citizen science has been a popular pastime for nerdy types for quite a while, and now, online projects are connecting citizen scientists using social media.

Spiral Galaxy: Citizen scientists sort through images like this one from the Hubble Space Telescope at Galaxy Zoo.
Spiral Galaxy: Citizen scientists sort through images like this one from the Hubble Space Telescope at Galaxy Zoo.Courtesy NASA

What is citizen science, you ask? It takes many forms, but the ultimate goal is for normal folks like you and me to lend our time and abilities to scientists--to collect data, tag birds, photograph species--the list goes on. Amateurs help scientists by extending their observational reach--a network of 40 citizens all over the country can make more observations than 2-3 scientists in one location. They also help scientists by performing simple tasks that can be time-consuming but don't ultimately require specialized training.

Whether you're interested in plants, animals, climate, weather, pollution, or astronomy, there are plenty of ways to get involved--Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Citizen Science Central is a clearinghouse of citizen science projects. Some examples include:

You can even use your computer to model climate change. In these projects, it's important to follow directions from the scientists, to make sure your data and other contributions are usable. But no matter how you get involved, it's a great way to help develop a better understanding of the world around us, which helps pave the way for a better future.


Measuring to detect changing climate

Jack-in-the-pulpit: photo taken May 3, 2004
Jack-in-the-pulpit: photo taken May 3, 2004Courtesy ARTiFactor
One way to measure climate change would be to keep records of when different species of plants first come up or when they first flower. I often do this with my camera which automatically records the time and date.

The National Phenology Network

The National Phenology Network is recruiting people across the U.S. to record when trees bud, flowers bloom and migrating animals return. I heard the project's executive director, Jake Weltzin, explain how tracking these trends can help scientists better understand climate change on National Public Radio Friday (click link to listen to the broadcast).

Become a phenology observer

Click this link to learn how to monitor plant phenology and sign up to contribute new observations to the USA-NPN national phenology database.

The USA National Phenology Network brings together citizen scientists, government agencies, non-profit groups, educators and students of all ages to monitor the impacts of climate change on plants and animals in the United States.

Select a plant

I especially liked the "select a plant" data base. In addition to telling you how and what to measure, it also tells why a particular plant is important. Click here to see information about my jack in the pulpit.

It's still at the observational stage, but investigators are looking at the link between strength of garage doors and the amount of damage a home incurs from a passing tornado. After reading this Star-Tribune story, it sounds like a case of the general public connecting the dots before the scientific community.

Spring is springing, and birds are nesting, and you can be a part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's NestWatch project. They provide the training. You can observe natural nest sites or nest boxes, and your observations get permanently archived in North America's largest breeding bird database. The data collected helps scientists better understand threats to bird species. Pretty cool.


The Warner Nature Center is offering a Project NestWatch workshop to teach you how to monitor birds nesting in your neighborhood. Become part of an exciting national pilot program to create “citizen scientists.” You'll learn how to collect valuable data on nesting birds in your neighborhood that will be studied by some of the world’s most renowned bird scientists. And you'll learn more about the birds local to your neighborhood, where they nest, how you can make your backyard more bird-friendly, and how to submit your nest observations to a national online database.

Falcon chicks: In the spring, museum visitors can watch baby peregrine falcons on our FalconCam. (Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Mourning dove: This one was nesting in my backyard. You can see the messy nest and a chick's head peeking out. (Photo by Ken Kornack)
Mourning dove: This one was nesting in my backyard. You can see the messy nest and a chick's head peeking out. (Photo by Ken Kornack)

Call 651-433-2427 to register or ask questions. (Please register by May 2.)

**NestWatch is a project led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.


Ever wanted to be a storm spotter? Now's your chance! The National Weather Service (NWS) relies on local SKYWARN storm spotters to confirm, from the ground, what meteorologists are seeing on radar. NWS storm spotters are not tornado chasers like the folks in the movie "Twister." Instead, they report wind gusts, hail size, rainfall, cloud formations, and the like to NWS and local emergency management agencies.

Tornado: This tornado, seen in its early stages of formation over Union City, Oklahoma (May 24, 1973), was the first one caught by the National Severe Storms Laboratory doppler radar and chase personnel. (Photo courtesy NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OA
Tornado: This tornado, seen in its early stages of formation over Union City, Oklahoma (May 24, 1973), was the first one caught by the National Severe Storms Laboratory doppler radar and chase personnel. (Photo courtesy NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OA

New radar equipment is still not sensitive enough to determine the existence of an actual tornado. It can only predict where severe weather is likely to occur. So the NWS needs trained volunteers to verify actual severe weather.

With peak storm season just around the corner (mid-June here in the Upper Midwest), free, 2.5-hour classes are being offered to train new SkyWarn volunteers.

SkyWarn class schedule, greater Minnesota
SkyWarn class schedule, Twin Cities Metro area

Here's how you get started...


For the next four days--February 16 through 19--birdwatchers of all abilities and ages are identifying and counting birds throughout North America. The Great Backyard Bird Count is going on right now, and it's free, easy, takes as little as 15 minutes, and helps the birds.

According to the GBBC website:

"Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are. Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.

We need your help. Make sure the birds from your community are well represented in the count. It doesn't matter whether you report the 5 species coming to your backyard feeder or the 75 species you see during a day's outing to a wildlife refuge.

Your counts can help us answer many questions:

  • How will this winter's snow and cold temperatures influence bird populations?
  • Where are winter finches and other “irruptive” species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?
  • How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
  • How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
  • What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?
  • Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention?
  • Scientists use the counts, along with observations from other citizen-science projects, such as the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, and eBird, to give us an immense picture of our winter birds. Each year that these data are collected makes them more meaningful and allows scientists to investigate far-reaching questions."

    Don't know anything about birds? That's OK. The folks at Great Backyard Bird Count can teach you all you need to know. (They have lots of fun games and activities, too.)

    Results of the bird count are constantly being updated. See what's going on in your neck of the woods!


    Aurora borealis: over Edinburgh in 2004.Courtesy piglicker
    Aurora borealis: over Edinburgh in 2004.
    Courtesy piglicker

    The aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, are caused by high-energy particles streaming from the Sun collide with molecules high in the Earth’s atmosphere. The Sun has been pretty active of late, and scientists at the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks are predicting another aurora peak for the night of the 19th, perhaps lasting through the night of the 20th. The aurora may be visible throughout Canada and the northern tier of states in the US, as well as Russia, Scandinavia, New Zealand and Tasmania.

    Check their website for hourly forecasts , and for general information on auroras.

    If you see the aurora, let us know! Post a comment with your location and the time you saw it (or didn’t see it), and we’ll try to produce an aurora map.