Winter Weather Citizen Science!

By Guest | January 27, 2015 9:00 am
winter-250x168 top

Photo: NPS

Winter weather is upon us! Many folks bundle up and venture outside to participate in citizen science, while others look for projects they can do indoors.

Here’s a mitten-full of indoor and outdoor cold-weather projects for you to explore.


weather it


This project is run by a graduate student who needs your help! Now through the end of February, she’s looking for people to provide information on snowflakes, cloud patterns, and more. Get Started!



Study Adélie Penguin Breeding

Through Penguin Science, students have access to photos, videos, and field data of Antarctic penguins. The project provides materials and activities to help your class and family study penguins. Get Started!



Winter Wild Turkey Flock Survey

Calling all New Yorkers! The Department of Environmental Conservation is monitoring the health of the turkey population and wants you to report sightings of winter turkey flocks. Get Started!

novs cloud


The NOVA Cloud Lab

This is a great project to do when you want to stay inside and keep warm. Classify clouds and investigate storms from the comfort of your own home. Get Started!


Do you live in Canada? Do you have an outdoor ice rink? If you do, this project is perfect for you! Report the conditions on your rink throughout the winter and compare them to rinks throughout the country. Get Started!


IceWatch USA

Have a body of water near year? Volunteers are needed to track weather and wildlife conditions on water bodies throughout the winter. Get Started!


Are you in San Jose/CA, Philadelphia/PA, Boston/MA, or Atlanta/GA? Would you like to help us organize events there? Email!If you’d like your citizen science project featured on SciStarter, email to the Citizen Science Association’s Conference in San Jose, CA? Suggest or join a project for our hackfest.

Image Credits: NPS (Weather-IT), Jean Pennycook (Adele Penguin Breeding), NOVA (Winter Wild Turkey Flock Survey), Nature Abounds (IceWatch USA)
CATEGORIZED UNDER: Citizen Science, Environment
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Propose or Join a Citizen Science Hackfest Project!

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | January 21, 2015 2:13 pm

Propose or join a project or activity for the SciStarter Hackfest at the Citizen Science Association Conference!

Be a part of SciStarter's hackfest at CitSci 2015 in San Jose, California!

Be a part of SciStarter’s hackfest at CitSci 2015 in San Jose, California!

What: A hands-on and discussion-driven meet-up where everyone participates in dreaming up AND building creative tools to improve the field of citizen science!

Where: Citizen Science 2015 Conference, San Jose, CA

Who: The SciStarter team and YOU!

Why: To capitalize on the collective wisdom (and desire to act!) at the Citizen Science Association Conference

The inaugural conference of the Citizen Science Association will take place February 11-12 in San Jose, California and the SciStarter team is looking forward to soaking up new information during the scheduled sessions and talks!

We’ll also contribute to these conversations through a few presentations and an interactive, “roll-up-your-sleeves!” hackfest designed for everyone.

Will you join us? Learn more about SciStarter’s past Hackfests here.

First, make sure you have registered for the Citizen Science 2015 Conference if you want to participate in person. You can join us remotely, too. Just let us know how you plan to participate when you sign up.

Then, fill out this form to let us know you’re coming so we know how many people to expect. Remember, ALL contributions are valuable, and some projects may be discussion-based (no programming skills required). All projects should spark the start of something great! Just bring your creativity, enthusiasm and talents and we’ll make sure you’ll have fun!

Do you have a Hackfest idea or project you’d like people to know about or join at the event? Great!

Use this form to propose a project for the Hackfest at the Citizen Science Association meeting, February 11, 2015, 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm at the San Jose Convention Center!

Here’s the running list of proposed projects! Just click on the image to learn more about the proposed project.

scistarter robot
1.  Agile Citizen Science
Join this group to participate in a brainstorm session to generate ideas and examples of possible agile citizen science projects and of the design features for a digital platform that would support those projects. Click to learn more.

scistarter robot
2. Locating Citizen Science Activity
Having a simple, accurate representation of a project’s geographic area of interest is important not only for validating the contributed data, but also for finding and recruiting potential participants who live or visit the area of interest and may be able to contribute. Click to learn more.


scistarter robot
3. Upate Wikipedia Entry for Citizen Science
You’ll learn how to add content to Wikipedia! Between 80-90% of Wikipedia editors are male, so I particularly want to encourage women to participate. Click to learn more.



What is killing California’s trees, and what can you do about it?

By Guest | January 14, 2015 3:56 pm
California Oak (Photo Credit: Michael Warwick/Shutterstock)

California Oak (Photo Credit: Michael Warwick/Shutterstock)

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Ariel Simons and originally appeared on the author’s blog. Project SCARAB is one of more than 800 great citizen science projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to find one that you can participate in!

The great thing about living in a major port city such as Los Angeles is having access to ideas and goods from the around the world. However, the port of LA, and by extension every trade conduit branching off from there, takes the chance on cargo containers carrying an invasive species. In 2003 one such species, the polyphagus shothole borer (PSHB), was spotted in Whittier, a suburb of Los Angeles. In the intervening decade it has quickly spread to many of the trees in southern California. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Citizen Science, Environment
MORE ABOUT: apps, trees

Celebrating the Next Generation of Bird Watchers

By Guest | January 9, 2015 8:37 am

This guest post by Sharman Apt Russel describes a citizen science experience with the children in her daughter’s third-grade classroom. the project, Celebrate Urban Birds was one of our Top 14 Projects of 2014. Check out the rest of the projects on that list here. Celebrate Urban Birds is also one of more than 800 citizen science projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to find one that fits your interests!

The Mourning Dove, a common rural and urban bird perched upon a rock

The Mourning Dove, a common rural and urban bird perched upon a rock (Image Credit: Elroy Limmer, used with permission)

Public school teachers have always been my heroes. When I first began to research and write about citizen science, I was particularly interested in easy-to-do, inexpensive, age-appropriate, classroom-friendly projects that I could take to teachers like my own daughter Maria—then in her second year in a third-grade classroom in the small border town of Deming, New Mexico. Unsurprisingly, one of the best programs I found—Celebrate Urban Birds–was also recently named by SciStarter as one of the best citizen science projects of 2014.

Designed and managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Celebrate Urban Birds asks children and adults to choose an urban, suburban, or even rural area half the size of a basketball court and watch bird activity for ten minutes. Any observations of sixteen designated species are recorded on a data form. For Maria’s class of twenty-four, Cornell Lab promptly sent twenty-four kits written in English and Spanish–instructions, forms, colored posters to help us identify the birds, packets of flower seeds to plant, and stickers that said “Zero Means a Lot!” The “Zero Means a Lot!” theme was repeated a number of times. “Send us your observations,” the Lab enthused, “EVEN IF YOU SEE NO BIRDS in your bird-watching area. Zero means a lot!”

On that warm spring morning, we headed out with a gaggle of children to the school playground where we faced a row of planted conifers and deciduous trees, the school fence just behind the trees, a street and residential houses just behind the fence. The mostly eight-year-olds divided into three groups of eight, each with a supervising adult, each with their own area to watch. This didn’t last long, of course, with a few small boys first running back and forth under the trees, and then entire groups dissolving and mixing.

Wonderfully iconic– a kind of miracle–an American robin posed on a branch and puffed out its red breast. That was one of the birds on our list of sixteen species! A rock pigeon swooped through the bare yard behind us. Rock pigeons were on our list, too! We could hear mourning doves call from a nearby telephone pole. A third bird on our list! Next, a child spotted a house sparrow lying dead on the other side of the fence, and this attracted far more attention than the live house sparrows in the nearby tree. Our fourth species.

The American Robin, a beautiful sight commonly found in urban areas and one of the birds that the group spotted during the project (Image Credit: NASA)

The American Robin, a beautiful sight commonly found in urban areas and one of the birds that the group spotted during the project (Image Credit: NASA)

For ten minutes, we exclaimed and watched and checked our list, looking for American crows, American robins, Baltimore orioles, barn swallows, black-crowned night herons, brown-headed cowbirds, Bullock’s orioles, cedar waxwings, European starlings, house finches, house sparrows, killdeer, mallards, mourning doves, peregrine falcons, and rock pigeons. One child believed emphatically that he saw a peregrine falcon swoop through the blue sky and another a Baltimore oriole colored red and yellow. Their teacher Maria said, “No, probably not,” but when the children insisted, she only smiled—“Okay, then, check the box that says ‘unsure.’” Some children remembered birds they had seen before, the mallard at the El Paso zoo with a broken leg and the mean parrot kept by their grandmother. Birds and memories of birds seemed to fill the air.

For ten minutes, we watched and then came inside and concentrated on filling out a form that included a description of the site and our observations, carefully copying what Maria wrote on the chalkboard. I realized that this last activity—learning how to record data–was as useful to these children as anything else we had done today.

My daughter and I were immeasurably pleased and planned how to do the next Celebrate Urban Birds even better. Perhaps we would do one of the associated art projects that the program suggests. We would have graphs and word problems. We would hand out more information about other common species in town–grackles and Western kingbirds. Eventually these children would say, “I learned how to bird-watch in the third grade.” Or, “I became passionate about birds in the third grade.” Or, “My teacher’s mother came into my third-grade class and revealed the world to be a web of miracles and connection, and I have never been the same since.”

At this point, I knew I was getting ahead of myself a little.

In today’s schools of scripted curriculums and constant test-taking, teachers like my daughter often have very little time in which to teach science. My daughter only had a half hour a week. A half hour. Celebrate Urban Birds was a creative, fun, educational use of that time. Moreover, like citizen scientists everywhere, these third graders had just become part of something larger than themselves. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology estimates that they work with some two hundred thousand volunteers, tracking and monitoring birds, with over a million observations reported each month on the Lab’s online checklist. These observations help produce real science, contributing to over sixty scientific papers as well as policy decisions designed to protect birds and their habitat.

The next year, my daughter and I did a repeat of Celebrate Urban Birds, and this time we had to use the stickers “Zero Means a Lot!” But that was a good learning experience, too. Surprisingly, the children did not seem particularly discouraged. They only asked if they could look for birds again tomorrow.



Sharman RusselSharman Apt Russell lives in rural southwestern New Mexico and teaches writing at Western New Mexico University in Silver City and at the low-residency MFA program in Antioch University in Los Angeles. She’s engaged in a number of citizen science projects, including monitoring archeology sites and inventorying possible new wilderness areas in the Gila National Forest. Her new book Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World (Oregon State University Press, 2014) was selected by The Guardian (UK) as one of the top ten nature books in 2014.



SciStarter’s Top Fourteen Citizen Science Projects of 2014!

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | January 5, 2015 7:00 am
new year scistarter 2015
As we ring in the New Year, we’re celebrating the 14 Top Projects of 2014! These are the projects that received the most visits on the SciStarter website.

Resolve to do more citizen science in 2015!

We’ll help you with that goal. Happy New Year!

meteor observing scistarter
Photo: Mike Hankey
1.  American Meteor Society – Meteor Observing
Report meteors and meteor showers online or with an easy smartphone app and help scientists determine their astronomical origins. Get started!

voice scistarter
Photo: NASA
2.  Perfect Pitch Test
If you have perfect pitch, this project needs you! Just take a brief survey and a quick pitch-naming test to help determine if perfect pitch differs for different timbres. Get started!

sea floor
Photo: NOAA
3.  Digital Fishers
Only have a minute to spare? Use it to analyze short video clips of amazing deep sea life. Get started!

Photo: EyeWire
4.  EyeWire
With EyeWire, you can play a captivating image-mapping game that helps maps the retina’s neural connections. Get started!

Photo: LLNL
5.  American Gut
Our guts contain trillions of microbes. Sample and identify the organisms in your gut with this cool project. Get started!

Photo: Dennis Ward, Project BudBurst
6.  Project BudBurst
Do you enjoy following the trees and plants in your yard as they leaf out, flower, and produce fruit? Record your observations and submit them to BudBurst. Get started!

Photo: NASA
7.  Loss of the Night
Stargazers take note- Identify and report all the stars you see at night in order to measure light pollution. Get started!

Photo: NASA
8.  SatCam
Use your smartphone to record sky and ground conditions near you, and SatCam will send you satellite images for the same area. Get started!

Photo: NPS

Photo: Victor Loewen
10.  Celebrate Urban Birds
Observe the birds outside your window and report the presence of 16 common species. How many will yousee? Get started!

Photo: DDQ
11.  Dark Sky Meter 
Use your phone to measure the brightness of the night sky and contribute to a live map of global light pollution. Get started!

1312.  World Water Monitoring Challenge
Curious about your local water quality?  This project provides a simple kit for you to test water temperature, pH, and more. Get started!

1413.  Ignore That!
Help scientists study the human mind by playing a 5-minute game that determines how distractable you really are. Get started!

Photo: NASA
14.  GLOBE at Night
This is a great project for children and adults who enjoy looking up at the night sky and want to track light pollution. Get started!

Backyard Butterfly Counting Ripples Up To International Summits

By Carolyn Graybeal | December 22, 2014 10:00 am
Kenneth Dwaine Harrelson/Wikimedia A monarch butterfly with its distinctive black and orange patterning.

Kenneth Dwaine Harrelson/Wikimedia A monarch butterfly with its distinctive black and orange patterning.

Beloved by tattoo parlors and fantasy princess landscapes, the king of butterflies is in decline. During their annual migration, monarch butterflies are famous for gathering in innumerable flutters as they fly from summer breeding grounds in the U.S. and Canada to warmer sites in Mexico and California. At one time, there were over a billion monarchs making this journey. Now, less than 4% are left.

Over the years, human behaviors, particularly agricultural practices have contributed to the monarch’s decline. In a petition to protect monarchs scientists point to habitat loss as grassland is converted to farmland and overwintering sites are deforested as a major factor. On top of that, the cultivation of certain genetically engineered crops enable farmers to apply broad-spectrum herbicides killing weeds such as milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s sole food source.

Unlike honeybees whose population decline directly affects agricultural production, the decline of monarch butterflies may have gone unnoticed if not for the efforts of scientists and conservation groups. Every winter, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation counts overwintering western monarchs, a subset of monarch butterflies west of the Rockies. The butterflies arrive at the California coast as early as October and remain until spring.

Counting butterflies might sound fanciful, but scientists need a complete survey to understand how the current butterfly population is faring. “There are over 400 identified overwintering sites, half of which are registered and active monitoring sites. It is a large geographical range for a small organization like ours to cover,” says Candace Fallon, a conservation biologist with The Xerces Society. To handle the work load, the group enlists citizen scientists to visit designated sites and count the number of monarchs present, or as the case may be not present. “We depend on volunteer assistance to gather data. We couldn’t do this important work without them.”

Xerces Society Western Monarch Butterflies have been declining.

Since the counts started in 1997, western monarchs have fallen from 1.2 million to a little over 200,000 reported last year, almost a 90% decrease from their peak and a 50% decrease from their running 17-year average. Volunteers also gather information about habitat conditions and changes. “All this information tells us about the status of and factors affecting the western monarchs,” says Fallon.

The biggest volunteer effort is the yearly Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count which takes place during the three weeks around Thanksgiving. The event wrapped up last week. You can hear the latest on this year’s count by visiting their website.

Having the hard data is essential for informing local, national and even international policies. “Locally, we work with land owners and land managers to shape development plans and create strategies to promote monarch survival,” explains Fallon. Some of these strategies include encouraging farmers to plant milkweed in their hedgerows and allocate pollination meadows for butterflies and other pollinators.

Collectively, the data gathered by various citizen science and research programs have helped bring about national conservation and protection efforts. Over the summer, President Obama issued a memorandum addressing steps to protect bees and other critical pollinators. In August, The Xerces Society in collaboration with the Center for Food Safety, the Center for Biological Diversity, and renowned monarch scientist Lincoln Brower submitted a petition to classify monarch butterflies as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

In fact, monarch conservation drew attention at this year’s North American Leaders summit. Canada, Mexico, and U.S. leaders pledged to create an advisory group to update the North American Monarch Conservation Plan. The issue will be revisited at the next summit scheduled for early next year.

Though the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count has end, volunteers are still needed to count butterflies throughout the overwintering season particularly during the first week of January. Visit their site for information on how to get involved. Find other butterfly projects at


The Xerces Society

12 Days of Christmas: Citizen Science Edition!

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | December 21, 2014 9:51 am
Photo: John Ohab
12 Days of Christmas
We’re back with our annual list of 12 merry projects!
Cheers to you for all you do for science!
2015 is already shaping up to be the Year of the Citizen Scientist. Hold onto your (santa) hats!

1 -chestnut count
Credit:  DOI
1st Day of Christmas, the American Chestnut Foundation gave to me:
A partridge in a chestnut tree. Leaf and twig sampling helps identify and map chestnut trees throughout the eastern United States. Get started!

2-audubon2nd day of Christmas, Audubon gave to me:
Two turtle doves spotted during the Christmas Bird Count, the world’s longest running citizen science project, which takes place now through January 5. Get started!

3-crab3rd day of Christmas, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center gave to me:
Three Chinese mitten hens (female crabs) on the east coast. Mitten Crab Watch needs our help to determine the current distribution status of the mitten crab. Get started!

4-canid howls
Mark Dumont (CC BY 2.0)
4th day of Christmas, University of TN gave to me:
Four or more calling dogs, wolves and other canids! Listen and analyze the canid howls and investigate the role of these sounds.Get started!

Credit:  DHS
5th day of Christmas, Precipitation ID Near the Ground gave to me:
Five gold PINGs! This winter, you can track snow, rain, and hail near you for the National Severe Storms Laboratory.Get started!

6-seabird6th day of Christmas, Seattle Audubon Society gave to me:
A chance to help seabird researchers create a snapshot of geese density on more than three square miles of near-shore saltwater habitat.Get started!

7-myswan7th day of Christmas, the University of Melbourne gave to me:
The MySwan project to report sightings of tagged black swans around the world. After you submit your sighting, you’ll get an instant report about the swan, with information about its history and recent movements. Get started!

8-galaxy8th day of Christmas, Zooniverse gave to me:
The Milky Way Project, a chance to help scientists study our galaxy, as well as the Milky Way advent calendar and even Milky Way tree ornaments! Get started!

9-mercurri9th day of Christmas, Science Cheerleaders gave to me: 

Credit:  USGS
10th day of Christmas, the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program gave to me:
10 frogs-a-leaping as citizen scientists monitor their populations across the continent. Get started!

Credit: NIH
11th day of Christmas, the University of Washington gave to me:
SingAboutScience, a searchable database where you can find content-rich songs on specific scientific and mathematical topics. These singers sure have pipes! Get started!

12-grouse12th day of Christmas, NY Department of Environmental Conservation gave to me:
The Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey to help hunters survey populations of ruffed grouse in breeding season. Get started!



Citizen Science at the California Academy of Sciences

By Guest | December 18, 2014 2:25 pm

Editors Note: This is a guest post by Alison Young, Citizen Science Engagement Coordinator and Rebecca Johnson, Citizen Science Research Coordinator at the California Academy of Sciences. It is part of a SciStarter series highlighting Citizen Science at Science Centers. The authors talk about how the Academy connects communities to their local biodiversity through citizen science with the help of iNaturalist, their technology partner. iNaturalist is also part of more than 800 citizen science projects on SciStarter. Check them out and become a naturalist yourself!

California Academy of Sciences citizen science volunteers doing long-term monitoring surveys at Pillar Point reef. (Image Credit: California Academy of Sciences)

The mission of the California Academy of Sciences is to explore, explain, and sustain the natural world. Our museum floor teaches the public about the science of the natural world around them, while our researchers work to understand the evolutionary history of life on earth, document biodiversity, and discover new species the in hotspots around the world. The aim of our citizen science program is to engage communities in Academy biodiversity research and, through this participation, increase science learning and connect people to biodiversity all around them. All of our projects focus on biodiversity discovery and documentation, and all of our projects are undertaken in conjunction with a conservation partner. We are building a community of naturalists of all ages and at the same time providing our scientists and partners with valuable data required to better understand and conserve biodiversity. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Citizen Science, Environment

Preliminary Analysis of Project MERCURRI… a.k.a. #spacemicrobes

By Darlene Cavalier | December 17, 2014 1:51 pm

Project MERCCURI is a citizen science project to examine the diversity of microbes on Earth and on the International Space Station, led by the Eisen Lab and UC Davis, SciStarter, and the Science Cheerleaders, with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Space Florida and Nanoracks.

There are three components:

1) Swabbing shoes and cell phones and built environments to examine how bacteria differ across different types of surfaces in a building.
2) The Microbial Playoffs In Space (taking place right now and described below!) to explore how microbes from YOUR favorite team perform in the space playoffs.
3) Swabbing the inside of the International Space Station to see what kinds of bacteria lurk on the surfaces inside the International Space Station (ISS).

project merccuri patch

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Citizen Science, Uncategorized

Citizen Science at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

By Caren Cooper | December 16, 2014 1:51 pm

“Citizen Science at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences,” is part of a SciStarter series highlighting Citizen Science at Science Centers.

People visit science museums when they are feeling curious. And when it rains. And when nieces and nephews visit, when there is a new dinosaur exhibit, and because it’s a compromise the whole family agrees upon. Life provides a zillion reasons to visit a science museum. Once there, museums stir the inner scientist that dwells in every individual. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences has a mission that is eloquent and profound: to illuminate the interdependency of nature and humanity. That’s a mission I’ve chosen to accept, being a newly hired investigator in their Biodiversity Research Lab. I’m helping the NC Museum of Natural Sciences with one method they’ve been using to achieve their mission: citizen science. The Museum opens doors to welcome the public into the world of scientific research in the following ways:

Credit: Eric Knisley

Credit: Eric Knisley

On-exhibit research Read More


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Citizen Science Salon, brought to you by SciStarter, is where science enthusiasts can join forces with top researchers. We'll feature weekly collaborative, crowdsourced, and DIY research projects that relate to what you're reading about in Discover, so you can take science into your own hands. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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