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Archive for July, 2013

Crowdsourcing Science: Citizens Measuring water levels

Posted in Models, Research by Jessica Bird on July 16th, 2013

Source: FastCoExist

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Image from the CrowdHydrology project.

From the article “An Army Of Citizen Scientists Is Tracking Our Water Levels” by Zak Stone.

In an age of mechanized, digitized labor there are still some jobs where humans get it done better or more cheaply than just about any machinery–particularly when that human labor is crowdsourced by volunteers. University of Buffalo Geologist Chris Lowry figured that out when trying to collet basic information on the water level of streams across a large watershed in western New York, an endeavor that would eat up cash using machinery or time using labor from the lab. After reading an article about a researcher who used crowdsourcing to get the public to help monitor roadkill, “I was like ‘If these people can get people to help out with their research, why can’t I get people to help out with water level measurements?'” explains Lowry. He started simple, printing out a half sheet of paper that said “‘Please text me the water level,’ and it had a phone number. “And then I bought a giant ruler, I brought this into the stream, I put this sign on top, and then I just waited for someone to send me a text message,” he explains. “And sure enough, a couple people sent me text messages.”

That basic idea turned into the pilot project CrowdHydrology at nine New York freshwater sites, starting in 2011. Now, with support from the U.S. Geological Survey, the project will expand to more than 50 new sites across New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. The data can help fill in gaps in data collection as budget cutbacks mean the USGS is discontinuing monitoring of certain streams.

When citizens are contributing data, quality is always a concern, but Lowry says control tests–where a pressure transducer measures water levels in the same sites where people are measuring by hand–show that “people who send us text messages do a really really good job.” The level of error turned out to be to be as small as one tick mark on a ruler.

Lowry has found that engaging local communities is the key to getting a high volume of texts from any given site–more so than just foot traffic. And locations where passersby are more likely to take an interest in science–like a nature center–have worked best. “I really think that as scientists we may just be on the cusp of crowdsourcing scientific data. I think there’s going to be a big boom in the future for using these kinds of methods,” Lowry says. […] “On one side we’re using [the project] for cutting edge research. On the other, we’re using it as this outreach tool to foster the next generation of scientist.”

>>> Read the full article on FastCoExist.
>>> Learn more about the CrowdHydrology project on their website.


What’s your carbon Handprint?

Posted in Models by Jessica Bird on July 5th, 2013

Source: FastCo.Exist

handprinter
Screenshot from the Handprinter video.

From the article ‘An App That Measures Your Positive Impact on The Planet‘ by Ben Schiller:

Greg Norris has worked in the field of lifecycle assessments–what you and I know as “footprints”–for many years. And, not long ago, he started to feel depressed about it. Everything seemed to be in a negative direction, impact-wise. “From the footprint perspective, all you see is bad news,” he says. “I ended up feeling like the Earth would be better off without me.”

So, Norris came up with what he calls “the mirror image of footprints”. Handprints are the positive things we do to reduce damage we inevitably cause from driving, buying stuff, and so on. It’s a form of offsetting. But instead of paying someone to plant a tree in Malawi, you have to take care of the corresponding action yourself. “I asked myself: How can I make it possible that there would be less pollution because of me? The answer is to stimulate change for the better,” he says.

You can create a handprint in three ways. First, you simply cut your footprint: say, by cycling to work, rather than driving. Second, you can champion an action suggested on the platform (carpooling, say). Or, third, you can come up with a completely new idea. In each case, Handprinter calculates the benefit and your part in bringing it about. If, for example, you share a link and someone clicks on it, you get credited with that action. Everything is subtracted from your footprint, which you calculate at the beginning. […]

Norris sees the platform as a way of inspiring positive behavior. If he can get enough people using the app, he hopes to create a virtuous circle of people proposing and rewarding action. As an example, he points to an initiative in Maine that Handprinter has been involved with. Owens Corning has donated 300 water heater blankets, which schools are giving away to residents in return for nine months’ worth of energy savings. The schools will spend the money on new blankets, setting up a positive cycle. (Students can follow the ripple effects on the Handprinter app). […]

>>> You can read the original article here.
>>> You can learn more about Handprinter on their website or try the beta version of the app.


A world without bees

Posted in Movements, Research by Jessica Bird on July 1st, 2013

Source: Fast Co.DESIGN

WHOLE FOODS MARKET PRODUCE DEPARTMENT
Photo: PRNewsFoto

From the article ‘This is what our grocery shelves would look like without bees‘ by Sam Medina:

Last winter’s so-called Beepocalypse ravaged U.S. bee colonies like nothing that had come before. The country’s beekeepers reported that 31.1% of their colonies perished in the months spanning last fall through early 2013. The number of bee casualties in that period–twice that considered natural–is in keeping with rising honeybee mortality rates of the last six years. Scarier still, scientists aren’t exactly sure as to the cause for the degrading health of bee populations–something that should give you great cause for concern. After all, without bees, you can kiss your favorite fruits and nuts goodbye. Now, if you can manage it, imagine life without apples, mangoes, or almonds.

Well, you don’t have to. Earlier this week, a Whole Foods store in Providence, Rhode Island, temporarily removed all of its produce that is grown with the help of pollinators like bees. It then posted the photographic results online, in which whole parts of the fruit and vegetable department are seen to be completely barren. You can almost spot the tumbleweed. In a press release, Whole Foods says the stunt was part of the “Share the Buzz” campaign, a joint project with The Xerces Society that seeks to “raise awareness” about the importance of bees (honeybees in particular) to the health and vibrancy of our food system. Bees are the unsung heroes behind most of the world’s produce supply, and along with other pollinators like bats and birds, they are integral to growing and sustaining at least a third of its crop production.

Or as Whole Foods puts it: One of every three bites of food comes from plants pollinated by honeybees and other pollinators. Yet, major declines in bee populations threaten the availability of many fresh ingredients consumers rely on for their dinner tables. In total, the Providence store pulled 237 of 453 products off their shelves, amounting to just over half of the shop’s entire yield for the department. The variety of the ghost produce is astounding: Apples, avocados, carrots, citrus fruits, green onions, broccoli, kale, onions, and more would be obsolete or very expensive to grow without flourishing bee colonies.

Whole Foods says that consumers should be mindful of these facts and be proactive with, here it comes, their purchasing choices.

  • Bee organic: Buying organic is an easy way to support pollinators.
  • Bee savvy at home: Most pest problems can be solved without toxic and persistent pesticides.
  • Bee a gardener: Plant bee-friendly flowers and fruits.

[…]

>>> You can read the original article on Fast Co.DESIGN.
>>> You can learn more about ‘share the buzz‘ from Whole Foods.