Take Earth Science Week Into Your Hands with Citizen Science

Citizen scientists can help map erosion and other storm-related affects on coast lines using the USGS program iCoast.

Volunteers Monitor Bird and Beach Health. Image Credit: Pat Schutt, USGS.

Volunteers Monitor Bird and Beach Health. Image Credit: Pat Schutt, USGS.

Earth Science Week is Oct. 12-18, providing numerous opportunities to celebrate discoveries and questions in the geosciences. Among the highlights of Earth Science Week is encouraging people to participate in existing citizen science projects.

Projects include recording observations of water, phenology (the timing of natural events), and hazard mapping. Citizen science websites from the U.S. Geological Survey and partner organizations offer guidelines for gathering data, information on the instruments needed, and instructions for sharing the data once it’s been collected.

One example is USGS iCoast, a mapping program that asks volunteers to use before-and-after aerial photographs to identify the ways that dramatic natural events, such as hurricanes, alter the coastline.

Understanding the geomorphic changes caused by hurricanes helps USGS and local communities to better understand the vulnerabilities of coastal cities. USGS officials say they have thousands of pre- and post-storm aerial photographs of the East Coast of the U.S. but lack the staff to scrutinize every photo in the agency’s enormous collection. The iCoast program helps bridge this gap by using volunteers to classify observed changes in the landscape. For example, looking at dune movement after Hurricane Sandy may help indicate areas susceptible to hazardous erosion.

USGS determines probabilities of hurricane-induced coastal change for the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts to better inform evacuation, response, preparedness, and mitigation efforts. Image Credit: USGS.

USGS determines probabilities of hurricane-induced coastal change for the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts to better inform evacuation, response, preparedness, and mitigation efforts. Image Credit: USGS.

Geographic projects such as iCoast are just one example of citizen participation highlighted by Earth Science Week.

There are other opportunities for bird and amphibian lovers, amateur botanists, and water watchers. Pairing a citizen’s passion with the need for observational data expands scientific knowledge in a valuable way, while offering opportunities for individual learning and skill development.

A full list of citizen science opportunities is available on the official Earth Science Week website.