Most Read: Local

Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 02/25/2009

Citizen Science & Global Change: What You Can Do

Wx and the City

* Getting Warmer: Full Forecast | More Pathetic: Winter or Wizards? *

Global warming. There -- I said it. (I wonder what comments would be posted without me writing any more?)

With recent reports of increased global temperature projections, birds spending winters further north and many other environmental and climatic changes, I wonder: what's going on in our own backyards? How do the average Jane and Joe know if there are changes in local weather patterns, seasonal migrations or blooming dates for their favorite flowers? How can science be made more accessible?

Enter Citizen Science.

Keep reading for more on citizen science and a list of projects you and your family can take part in...

Lately it seems that everywhere I turn, there's a new monitoring program that helps non-scientists observe the natural world and fill in the gaps of scientific studies. I'm all for it. Science -- especially of a huge concept like the atmosphere, amazing as it is -- can seem complicated, nerdy and boring. (If you're reading this, you've probably heard something like this before: "Weather?...Oh, neat. Like on TV. So is it going to rain tomorrow? Cool. Yeah, so 'bout the Steelers?")

Science can also be presented in win-or-lose terms. Citizen science projects can instill a sense of trust in the scientific method again. Why not introduce the public to relevant science by actually training us to do the science? Many eyes can be better than two, provided the eyes are well-trained and consistent, especially when it comes to major events like seasonal bird migration. Better still, some scientific studies depend on input from engaged citizens -- take spotting tornado touch-downs or compiling snowfall totals from the huge snowstorm that D.C. hasn't received this winter...Citizen scientists fill in the gaps.

To make big concepts like global climate a little easier to digest, how about helping to observe changes happening at the local level? For example, the bloom dates of over 500 Washington-area plant species were recorded from 1970 to 2000, and 89 percent of the species exhibited trends of flowering earlier in the year. Among these, cherry blossoms were found to be blooming about seven days earlier in 2000 than they were in 1970.*

Here are a few citizen science projects to start with. Get outdoors, and bring the kids or friends along too. Make science fun...

CoCoRaHS - Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network
Skywarn - severe weather spotting for the D.C./Baltimore National Weather Service
IceWatch -- freeze and thaw dates for local water bodies
Project BudBurst - phenology (seasonal changes in plants - starts soon, in early spring)
Journey North -- monarch butterflies and other migrating creatures
Hands on the Land -- various projects for classrooms or families
eBird & other projects at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

*Abu-Asab MS, et al. "Earlier plant flowering in spring as a response to global warming in the Washington, DC area." Biodiversity and Conservation 10 (2000) 597-612.

By  |  12:30 PM ET, 02/25/2009

Categories:  Science, Science, Science, Science

Read what others are saying

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company