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12 Ways to Channel Your Inner Citizen Scientist

GrizzlyprintsnowGrizzly print, and a notebook. Photo: Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation

Rachel Carson earned a master's degree in zoology from John Hopkins University and spent most of her career working as a marine biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But after her fourth book, Silent Spring, garnered pesticide manufacturers some unwanted publicity, the pesticide industry attempted to discredit Carson by claiming she wasn’t a trained biologist, writes Paul Brooks in his biography Rachel Carson: The Writer at Work.

The irony here is that in Silent Spring, which turns 50 this month and is arguably responsible for starting the environmental movement, Carson championed the growing concerns of untrained biologists. She listened to backyard botanists who simply observed nature and were alarmed by the indiscriminant death that DDT appeared to be doling out to songbirds, bees and other non-target species around their homes. Armed with their anecdotes and her own rigorous scientific research, Carson raised many red flags and brought the word “ecology” into the general lexicon.

Today, these untrained biologists actually have a moniker: citizen scientists. They also have many more ways to contribute to our understanding of the health of our environment.

Citizen science demographics used to trend toward the close-to-retirement set who like to study water quality, or toward younger, tech-savvy male astronomers, says Darlene Cavalier, founder of SciStarter, a hub for citizen science information and opportunities. But citizen science is becoming increasingly accessible and interesting to the general, outdoor-recreating public, thanks both to the connections between citizen science and climate change research and to the power of smartphones. 

“Smartphones are increasingly equipped with sensors that makes it so easy to become involved in citizen science,” says Cavalier. “It removes the fear of giving bad data and it makes it harder to say participating isn’t convenient. People can’t really say ‘I don’t have the tools or knowledge I need.’ The barriers are falling.”

Whether it’s collecting marine debris or chasing butterflies or tracking grizzly bears, there’s something for budding citizen scientists of every stripe and appetite for adventure.

Grab your waterproof-breathable pocket protector and check out these citizen science resources:

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USA Cycling’s Comeback Kids

S800c_WH_front34r_lo_1.highTejay Van Garderen takes time out for the next generation of youth cyclists. Photo: Jen Charrette

By Jennifer Charrette

When the USA Pro Cycling Challenge wrapped up in Colorado, one million spectators had lined the streets from Durango to Denver. It went down as the biggest single-day crowd in the history of U.S. cycling. The seven-day, 683-mile stage race through Colorado, which drew 138 pro riders from around the world, also heralded a long-overdue emergence of young American cyclists, which, given the recent implosion of our most infamous homegrown star, couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

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A Conversation With World Cup Downhill Champion Aaron Gwin

Aaron Gwin At Mammth Mountain, CaliforniaPhoto: Peter Morning/Mammoth Mountain

Before Southern California downhiller Aaron Gwin won the World Cup Overall last year, no American mountain biker had ever earned that title. Then 23 and racing in only his third season as a pro, Gwin, who grew up on the BMX and moto tracks, was so consistent in his results (including five victories) that he sealed up that title before the season had finished. He's dominated 2012 in the same fashion, winning four of the six events so far this year and clinching the overall before the final race in Hafjell, Norway.

Gwin's successes stem from a preternatural sense of balance and movement on the bike that he's gleaned from 19 years of riding. (Yep, he began BMXing at age four.) To watch him race is deceptive because he's so smooth and fluid that he makes very difficult courses look easy. Those who know him also describe Gwin as a fastidious student of the sport and consummate professional who works out constantly and spends hours and hours practicing basic skills like cornering.

Having commanded the World Cup circuit for the last two years, Gwin has turned his eye to the World Championship race, slated for this Sunday, September 2, in Leogang, Austria. It's a course that Gwin has won on before, in the 2011 World Cup. We caught up with the Trek World Racing rider last week on California's Mammoth Mountain, where he was teaching a skills camp and putting the finishing touches on his preparations for Leogang.

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6 Lessons From the USA Pro Challenge

CVV drinks in his victoryVande Velde soaks up victory. Photo: Team Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda

The second annual USA Pro Challenge, which I'll forever call the Tour of Colorado, wrapped up on Sunday, and I defy you to find anyone who said it wasn't better than the first edition. Not only was the race one day longer than the inaugural event, but the course was better crafted to preserve the drama down to the finish. And that it did, with Garmin-Sharp's Christian Vande Velde snatching a surprising victory in the race's waning minutes.

Good as it was, the USAPCC V.2 wasn't perfect. With that in mind, here are a few humble observations and suggestions for an even more memorable event next year.

1. Thank bejeezus for Garmin-Sharp. This event could have been tedious without them. The truth is, making an interesting race in Colorado is challenging because the mountaintops mostly don't finish in towns, the roads are super wide, and the grades are not terribly steep, all of which works against drama. But Garmin, who were hell-bent on winning (or at least going down swinging), injected plenty of theatrics. The team ripped apart half the stages by putting incredibly strong riders off the front, and in return they won three of seven stages plus the overall. Tom Danielson's huge move to hold off the chasing peloton by a scant two seconds on Stage 3 goes down as one of the finest single days of racing all year. And Christian Vande Velde's from-behind win in the final TT is something out of a storybook, especially after his close second last year. Chapeau to the argyle!

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Lance Armstrong Says He Will Not Be Distracted in Video Message

On Tuesday, Lance Armstrong sent out a tweet inviting anyone to join him for a Wednesday morning run in Montreal. "Hey Montreal - anyone want to run tomorrow? Meet me at the Monument to Sir George - Etiene Cartier. 6pm! 7.5km loop." Hundreds joined Armstrong and offered support. According to Livestrong, that support hasn't been limited to Montreal. Earlier this week, the organization said donations increased after Armstrong decided not to pursue arbitration with the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

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Apr 23, 2014

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