It’s almost spring, the time of year when the looming change in seasons could lead to some pretty fascinating cloud activity in the sky. NASA and the GLOBE Program are asking for your help by taking part in a citizen science cloud observation challenge.
From March 15 through April 15, citizen scientists of all ages can make up to 10 cloud observations per day using the free GLOBE Observer app (get the app here or at your phone’s app store). The app allows you to photograph clouds and record sky observations and compare them with NASA satellite images.
Challenge participants with the most observations will be congratulated by a NASA scientist in a video posted on the GLOBE Program’s website and on social media
Researchers use, and value, this citizen science cloud data because it helps to validate satellite data. NASA scientists work with a suite of six instruments known as the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES). According to a NASA statement:
Even though CERES’ instruments use advanced technology, it is not always easy for researchers to positively identify all types of clouds in their images. For example, it can be difficult to differentiate thin, wispy cirrus clouds from snow since both are cold and bright; even more so when cirrus clouds are above a surface with patchy snow or snow cover. One solution to this problem is to look at satellite images from a particular area and compare them to data submitted by citizen scientists on the ground.
Marilé Colón Robles is lead for the GLOBE Clouds team at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. She said in a statement:
Looking at what an observer recorded as clouds and looking at their surface observations really helps us better understand the images that were matched from the satellite.
You don’t have to be a cloud-gazing pro to participate. For those who want to be part of the challenge but don’t have a lot of experience identifying clouds, Colón Robles offers the following advice:
Just go outside. The more clouds you observe, the more comfortable you’ll be collecting data.
GLOBE is now the major source of human observations of clouds, which provide more information than automated systems.
Bottom line: NASA’s GLOBE program asks citizen-scientists to take pictures of clouds to help scientists verify satellite date.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.