The value of citizen-generated science is growing exponentially. In early May 2012, citizen scientists reached a major milestone by contributing over one million observations on the environment to Nature’s Notebook. Nature’s Notebook is an online observation program run by the USA National Phenology Network that collects information on the annual timing of important life cycle events such as when birds migrate, when plants flower in the spring and when leaves turn color in the fall.
Jake Weltzin, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey and director of the USA National Phenology Network commented on the growth of citizen scientist contributions to Nature’s Notebook in a press release. He said:
Hitting the one millionth observation is exciting because researchers and decision-makers need more information to understand and respond to our rapidly changing planet. More information means better-informed decisions that ensure the continued vitality of our natural areas that we all depend on and enjoy.
The one millionth observation was contributed by Lucille Tower, a citizen scientist from Portland, Oregon who tracked the emergence of maple vines this spring.
Contributions to Nature’s Notebook are encouraged from people of all ages and backgrounds and the data they are collecting are forming a robust and sensitive indicator of environmental change. Data are made freely available to scientists, resource managers and the public to support decision-making and projects are already underway to use the data for examining the impacts of climate change on ecological communities, for forecasting the allergy season, for predicting the severity of western wildfires and for controlling invasive species.
Not only are the data being collected for Nature’s Notebook important, but people are also reporting that they enjoy participating in the process. Gwen Lundburg, a citizen scientist from Seattle, Washington and frequent contributor to Nature’s Notebook said:
Just noticing small changes like tiny purple lilac buds suddenly turning green has taught me to look more closely at my plants. I see things in my garden I never saw before.
Funding for the USA National Phenology Network is provided in part by the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service, the National Science Foundation and the University of Arizona.
Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey commented on the value of contributions from citizen scientists in the press release. She said:
My dream is that through the wonders of modern technology and the National Phenology Network we could turn the more than six billion people on the planet into components of our scientific observation system. We could make giant leaps in science education, and all while making ordinary citizens feel a part of the scientific process.
John Wingfield, National Science Foundation’s assistant director for biological sciences added:
So much of our improved understanding about global environmental changes is driven by varied and valuable sources of information that include networks of citizen scientists. The public at large has played an important role collecting observations and data for a hundred years and more. Knowledge and data gained from their work will continue to have a lasting effect on how we understand regularly recurring biological phenomena for hundreds of plant and animal species and contribute to the policy arena.
Congratulations to everyone on hitting the one million mark. Can’t wait to see what next year will bring.
Bottom line: In early May 2012, citizen scientists reached a major milestone by contributing over one million observations on the environment to Nature’s Notebook. Nature’s Notebook is an online observation program run by the USA National Phenology Network that collects information on the annual timing of important life cycle events such as when birds migrate, when plants flower in the spring and when leaves turn color in the fall. Data from Nature’s Notebook are improving the scientific understanding of important environmental changes that are taking place on our planet.
Deanna Conners is an Environmental Scientist who holds a Ph.D. in Toxicology and an M.S. in Environmental Studies. Her interest in toxicology stems from having grown up near the Love Canal Superfund Site in New York. Her current work is to provide high-quality scientific information to the public and decision-makers and to help build cross-disciplinary partnerships that help solve environmental problems. She writes about Earth science and nature conservation for EarthSky.