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Dispatches : Nature

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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Art Campaign Illustrates the Beauty of Walking

Green_pedestrian_feetImage: DDB Group China

Car sales in China are a wee bit flat right now, but it’s still one of the world’s largest car markets. Congestion in cities is so bad that local governments have begun restricting how many people can drive each day. Despite that, the air quality and traffic remain untenable. Still, the China Environmental Protection Foundation’s campaign to get people out of their cars was an uphill battle at best.

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Jaw-Dropping Images From the 2012 Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year Contest

021_Ofer-Levy---Fly-by-drinkingFly-by drinking. Photo: Ofer Levy/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012

With a wing span of up to five feet, the grey-headed flying fox is the largest bat in Australia. With only 300,000 animals left in the wild, it is rare and protected. Unlike all other species of flying fox, which have fur only down to their knees, this flying mammal has a thick coat of the brown fuzzy stuff down to its ankles. All of that fluff helps when the bat gets thirsty.

"At dusk, it swoops low over the water, skimming the surface with its belly and chest," says photographer Ofer Levy. "Then, as it flies off, it licks the drops off its wet fur."

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Can the National Park Service Afford to React to Climate Change?

Delicate_arch_windowDelicate Arch, Arches National Park. Photo: Ryan Dearth

Last year, as part of his Call to Action plan to revise and improve the way our national parks are managed, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis asked a committee of scientists and advisers to the NPS to revisit and rewrite a 1963 report called "Wildlife Management in the National Parks."

Though the 1963 report, penned by the son of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, was groundbreaking as a contribution to wildlife management practices, it was written well before the park system had to address and adopt to climate change, and well before the system gained most of the cultural artifacts and memorials it now holds. Therefore, the report needed a major makeover.

The revised report, written with the help of an 11-member committee that includes a Nobel Laureate and two Presidential Medal of Science recipients, was released on Friday and includes broad recommendations on how the NPS should go about protecting park ecosystems and the cultural treasures they contain. Also published last week was a Washington Post news story entitled “National Parks Face Severe Funding Crunch,” in which Juliet Eilperin described the impact that fiscal belt-tightening has had on the park service in recent years and how the proposed 2013 budget would only worsen the park’s economic health. Some say more cuts will precipitate park closures.

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Tropical Storm Isaac at Night, Before It Knocked Lousiana's Lights Out

7887309206_97ea68fd5a_cTropical Storm Isaac, August 28. Photo: NASA

The city lights all appear on as Tropical Storm Isaac nears the Gulf Coast in this satellite image taken just after midnight on August 28. It was a different story last night, after Isaac morphed into a Category 1 Hurricane and hovered near land. Its 80 mile-per-hour winds and torrential rains left 520,000 people in Lousiana without power, according to The New York Times.

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