Posts Tagged ‘Research’

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.


Cyclists account for 24% of London’s morning commute

Posted in Movements, Research by Jessica Bird on June 27th, 2013

Source: The Guardian

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Photo by Karla Lopez via Flickr CC

From the article ‘Cyclists make up a quarter of London vehicles says TfL‘ by Laura Laker:

Cyclists make up an incredible 24% of vehicles in London’s morning rush hour, according to Transport for London (TfL) figures . The arresting statistic formed from a mass census of cyclists in London – apparently the biggest of its kind to date – is adding weight to campaigners’ and cycling proponents’ arguments that the bicycle is no longer the transport of the minority, and that we need to take the bicycle seriously as a means of mass transport.The numbers on some headline routes are perhaps not surprising to anyone who has squashed in with scores of cyclists at the traffic lights in London’s morning rush hour, though they do make previous cycling targets look shamefully unambitious. […]

London’s new cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, told the Guardian: “Cycling is clearly a mass mode of transport in central London and until now it hasn’t been treated as such. Nearly all provision for cycling is based on the presumption that hardly anyone cycles, that you can make do with shoving cyclists to the side of the road and that just clearly is wrong.” Since [London Mayor Boris] Johnson’s cycling vision was launched in March, there have been fears that the proposed £913m funding for cycling will suffer at the hands of George Osborne’s spending review, due tomorrow. Gilligan remains optimistic, however, and says although the money is a lot more than previously spent on cycling, it’s not a lot compared to TfL’s overall budget. As Sir Peter Hendy, TfL’s transport commissioner, noted at the cycling vision’s City Hall launch, we get more for our money from cycling infrastructure than for other mass transport systems. He wants to make cycling “one of his highest priorities”. As campaigners point out, urban cycling is still dominated by a minority. The next goal is surely to get everyone else on a bike.

The London Cycling Campaign’s chief executive, Dr Ashok Sinha, said: “The latest cycling figures from TfL simply underline that, given the right circumstances, a large proportion of London’s population would opt to cycle to work. “The ultimate goal must be to enable people of all ages and backgrounds to feel safe enough to cycle for everyday local journeys, not just commuters. The good news is that Boris Johnson gets this and understands that investing in cycling saves money in the long run. That’s why he must resolutely defend his impressive new cycling programme from impending Treasury cuts.” […]

>>> You can read the full article here.


Sustainable Urban Transformation: A global overview of real-world initatives

Posted in Research, Sustainable Cities by Kes McCormick on June 12th, 2013

JournalofcleanerProduction

The Special Volume of the Journal of Cleaner Production on Advancing Sustainable Urban Transformation provides a global overview of activities and ambitions on urban sustainability.  It is based on contributions of over 50 authors who have produced 20 articles based on 35 cases and 130 surveyed examples of urban initiatives on sustainability in many countries around the world.

Despite increased awareness of the urgency to respond to climate change and to promote sustainable development, there are few powerful initiatives that are decisively shifting urban development in a sustainable, resilient and low-carbon direction.

This Special Volume of the Journal of Cleaner Production explores sustainable urban transformation focusing on structural transformation processes – multi-dimensional and radical change – that can effectively direct urban development towards ambitious sustainability goals.

The 20 articles are based on 35 cases and over 130 surveyed examples of urban initiatives on sustainability in many countries. While cities in Europe dominate, there are also examples from North America, South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

The combined articles in this Special Volume contribute to knowledge and understanding on sustainable urban transformation across a range of areas, including governance and planning, innovation and competitiveness, lifestyle and consumption, resource management and climate mitigation and adaptation, transport and accessibility, buildings, and the spatial environment and public space.

Overall, this Special Volume documents and analyses real-life action in cities and communities around the world to respond to sustainability challenges and it provides critical insights into how to catalyse, intensify and accelerate sustainable urban transformation globally.

A main finding of the articles is that governance and planning are the key leverage points for transformative change.

>> Click here to see the lead article for the Special Volume

>> Click here to see the entire Special Volume


It’s not (just) ‘‘the environment, stupid!’’: Research paper

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on March 6th, 2013

From the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN):

This study is “based on a very small set of interviews – 16 people who self-identified as deliberately trying to live a lower-carbon lifestyle because of concern about climate change – and so its findings don’t necessarily apply to other people living in lower carbon ways. However, what is interesting about it is that it shows that people’s motivations for living in less carbon intensive ways are not primarily environmental. A concern for social justice is often much more important, as well is a desire for a more equal society” FCRN mailing: 5 March 2013.

Abstract:

This exploratory mixed-methods study uses in-depth interviews to investigate the values, motivations, and routes to engagement of UK citizens who have adopted lower-carbon lifestyles. Social justice, community, frugality, and personal integrity were common themes that emerged from the transcripts. Concern about ‘the environment’ per se is not the primary motivation for most interviewees’ action. Typically, they are more concerned about the plight of poorer people who will suffer from climate change. Although biospheric values are important to the participants, they tended to score altruistic values significantly higher on a survey instrument. Thus, it may not be necessary to promote biospheric values to encourage lower-carbon lifestyles. Participants’ narratives of how they became engaged with climate action reveal links to human rights issues and groups as much as environmental organisations and positive experiences in nature. Some interviewees offered very broad (positive) visions of what ‘a low-carbon lifestyle’ means to them. This, and the fact that ‘climate change’ is not necessarily seen as interesting even by these highly engaged people, reveals a need for climate change mitigation campaigns to promote a holistic view of a lower-carbon future, rather than simply offering a ‘to do’ list to ‘combat climate change’.

Reference:

Howell, R.A. (2012). It’s not (just) ‘‘the environment, stupid!’’ Values, motivations, and routes to engagement of people adopting lower-carbon lifestyles.

Global Environmental Change,  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2012.10.015

>> Download the paper

 


Seasonal Calendars: learning from Indigenous ecological knowledge

Posted in Models, Research by Jessica Bird on November 14th, 2012


Seasonal calendar from the Ngan’gi language group in the Northern Territory (TRaCK)

From the SBS Podcast Indigenous weather knowledge bridges gap by Naomi Selvaratnam

Indigenous communities across northern Australia have helped to develop seasonal calendars using their environmental knowledge. The calendars detail the changes in plant and animal life across the year, and can include as many as 13 seasons.

Darwin-based CSIRO researcher, Emma Woodward says the project highlights the importance of incorporating Indigenous knowledge into scientific research projects. She told Naomi Selvaratnam the value of indigenous knowledge is frequently underestimated by scientists.

The following comes from the CSIRO about the most recently released seasons calendar from the Gooniyandi language group in the Fitzroy Valley in the Kimberly.

The Mingayooroo – Manyi Waranggiri Yarrangi, Gooniyandi Seasons calendar was developed by key knowledge-holders of the Gooniyandi language group from the Fitzroy Valley in the Kimberley and CSIRO, as part of a Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge project on Indigenous socio-economic values and rivers flows in northern Australia.

The seasonal cycle recorded on the calendar follows 4 main seasons: Barranga (‘very hot weather time’); Yidirla (‘wet season time when the river runs’); Ngamari (‘female cold weather time’) and Girlinggoowa (‘male cold weather time’). Gooniyandi people closely follow meteorological events, including wind speed and direction, clouds and rain types, as each event is linked to different behaviours of animals. Gooniyandi people can therefore look to the weather to tell them when it is the best time for hunting and collecting different plants and animals.

The Gooniyandi Seasons calendar represents a wealth of Indigenous ecological knowledge. The development of the calendar was driven by a community desire to document seasonal-specific knowledge of the Margaret and Fitzroy Rivers in the Kimberley, including the environmental indicators that act as cues for bush tucker collection. The calendar also addresses community concern about the loss of traditional knowledge, as older people from the language group pass away and younger people are not being exposed to Indigenous ecological knowledge.

>>> You can listen to the podcast on SBS World News Radio and download the Gooniyandi seasons calendar from CSIRO.
>>> You can also access seasonal calendars for other Indigenous groups from TRaCK (Tropical Rivers and Coast Knowledge) research hub.


Intelligent Farming Can Reduce the Need for Pesticides and Fertilisers: Research

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on October 29th, 2012

“Figure 3. Multiple indicators of cropping system performance” from Increasing Cropping System Diversity Balances Productivity, Profitability and Environmental Health

From “A Simple Fix for Farming” by Mark Bittman:

It’s becoming clear that we can grow all the food we need, and profitably, with far fewer chemicals. And I’m not talking about imposing some utopian vision of small organic farms on the world. Conventional agriculture can shed much of its chemical use — if it wants to.

This was hammered home once again in what may be the most important agricultural study this year, although it has been largely ignored by the media, two of the leading science journals and even one of the study’s sponsors, the often hapless Department of Agriculture.

The study was done on land owned by Iowa State University called the Marsden Farm. On 22 acres of it, beginning in 2003, researchers set up three plots: one replicated the typical Midwestern cycle of planting corn one year and then soybeans the next, along with its routine mix of chemicals. On another, they planted a three-year cycle that included oats; the third plot added a four-year cycle and alfalfa. The longer rotations also integrated the raising of livestock, whose manure was used as fertilizer.

The results were stunning: The longer rotations produced better yields of both corn and soy, reduced the need for nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides by up to 88 percent, reduced the amounts of toxins in groundwater 200-fold and didn’t reduce profits by a single cent.

In short, there was only upside — and no downside at all — associated with the longer rotations. There was an increase in labor costs, but remember that profits were stable. So this is a matter of paying people for their knowledge and smart work instead of paying chemical companies for poisons. And it’s a high-stakes game; according to the Environmental Protection Agency, about five billion pounds of pesticides are used each year in the United States.

[…]

Read the full article by Mark Bittman on the NY Times Opinionator blog, or check out the research paper, published on plos one:

“Results of our study indicate that more diverse cropping systems can use small amounts of synthetic agrichemical inputs as powerful tools with which to tune, rather than drive, agroecosystem performance, while meeting or exceeding the performance of less diverse systems.”  Davis AS, Hill JD, Chase CA, Johanns AM, Liebman M (2012) Increasing Cropping System Diversity Balances Productivity, Profitability and Environmental Health. PLoS ONE 7(10): e47149. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047149


Visions of Resilience: Anglesea 2037

Posted in Research, Visions by Jessica Bird on October 23rd, 2012


Image by D. Armellin

A local resilience-building project about climate extremes.

Visions of Resilience: Anglesea 2037 is part of a larger research project Transforming Institutions for Climate Extremes. This project is led by Che Biggs at the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL) at the University of Melbourne. It aims to understand how communities and institutions can prepare and become more resilient to disruptive climate conditions. Anglesea was chosen as an ideal case-study site because it faces multiple climate hazards such as fire, drought and sea level rise but it also has a creative community and a strong local identity.

What is the Visions of Resilience: Anglesea 2037 blog about?

The images and articles you see on the Visions of Resilience: Anglesea 2037 blog are glimpses of possible futures. They depict strategies and ideas about how Anglesea could become more resilient to the more extreme possible impacts of climate change. The ideas represented have been developed from a workshop involving Anglesea community members. In the workshop people were asked to propose adaptation strategies in response to a series of challenging future scenarios that describe Anglesea in the year 2037. These scenarios were built from an assessment of climate model projections, historical records from along the Great Ocean Road and interviews with Anglesea residents. The small number of glimpses you see were combined and synthesised from more than 100 ideas developed in the workshop. Treat them as a window into a range of possible futures that might exist. We encourage you to comment on what is good or not good about the way they respond to challenges from climate change.

Why this project? When managing disaster risk, government and private sector organisations often rely heavily on ‘probability’ or ‘expert’ assessments of the likely type, extent and frequency of negative impacts. This can come unstuck when disasters occur outside what has been predicted and planned for. Transforming Institutions for Climate Extremes is a response to this problem. It responds to the call for new methods to improve community resilience and help communities improve disaster planning. It seeks to explore how prepared our communities, our decision-makers and decision-making processes are for the challenges of ‘new’ climate conditions. It will consider what institutional changes are needed to meet those challenges whilst ensuring community ownership.

Climate change in Anglesea? Anglesea lies in an area of southern Australia that will be affected by climate change in many ways. Climate models project that the most likely direct impacts will include changes to rainfall (drier but with more intense rainfall events), changes in temperature (warmer with more heatwaves), increasing acidity of oceans and rising sea levels. In-turn, these impacts are expected to affect a whole range of factors including increases in coastal erosion and days of extreme fire danger to increased risk of heat-stroke and changes to when plants flower and birds migrate. Climate Change is the effect of heat from the sun being trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere by gases produced by human activity. While some of these gases (like carbon dioxide) are found naturally in the atmosphere, as we increase their concentration above natural levels, they trap more heat from the sun – a bit like an insulation blanket.

You can view the glimpses of a resilient Anglesea in 2037 and comment at www.anglesea2037.com. You can also like the Facebook page to be kept up to date with the project.


Tidal Energy for Darwin: pilot plant and research centre

Posted in Models, Research by Jessica Bird on September 26th, 2012

Source: RenewEconomy


Photo by Oceanflow Energy via flickr CC

From “Plan to power Darwin with tidal energy gains momentum” by Sophie Vorrath

A plan to power Darwin with tidal energy – and to turn the Northern Territory into a tropical tidal energy hub – has come one step closer to being realised this week, after the signing of an MoU to build a 2MW pilot plant and research centre in Clarence Strait, off the Territory’s coast. Australian tidal energy company Tenax Energy said on Tuesday it had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the NT’s Power and Water Corporation to develop a 2MW Pilot Plant and Research and Tropical Tidal Testing Centre, the first steps on the path to a utility-scale generation facility that would deliver renewable power to Darwin.

Tenax says the project – to be located between Darwin and Melville Island – will be generating electricity by 2015, and could reach commercial scale before the end of the decade. The 2MW project will be followed by a 10MW pilot array test.  The Darwin-based company was first given a provisional licence to occupy 16.8sqkm in the Clarence Strait in 2010, having identified the area as one of three locations around Australia ideally suited to tidal energy; with high tidal velocity movement, sufficient water depth, and proximity to existing power grid infrastructure. (The other two locations are Banks Strait, Tasmania, and Port Phillip Heads, Victoria.) Tenax says power from the Clarence Strait has the potential to provide a “significant percentage” of Darwin’s electricity supply, and would go a long way to helping the Territory achieve a 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020.

The project’s staged development process is designed to allow the establishment of appropriate environmental and performance standards for tidal energy technologies in tropical waters, while also showing the Darwin community that tidal energy is a safe, convenient and reliable energy source.  “The idea with the testing station is to test out a number of different turbines and technologies in the Clarence Strait,” said Power and Water’s manager for sustainable energy, Trevor Horman, on ABC radio on Monday. “(The project) is reasonably close to an existing power line, so we’ll give it a trial over a couple of years and see how the technologies work out there… but we do hope this will prove a safe, reliable and inexhaustible energy source.” According to Tenax’s managing director, Alan Major, reliability is one of tidal energy’s strong points. ”The generating capability of tidal generators is predictable, with exceptional accuracy many years in advance,” he said back in 2010. “Twice a day, every day, the sea rises and falls … creating powerful and reliable water currents.” Major also says that one of the company’s main goals is to to position Darwin as the global centre of excellence in tropical tidal energy, “before the opportunity is captured by others.” “Tidal energy generation in tropical waters will demand new technical solutions that will be developed first in Darwin,” he said in the company’s statement on Monday. “This project is going to place Darwin at the forefront of a global industry, providing local employment and skills development and opening major export opportunities to Asia.”

Read the original article by Sophie Vorrath.


Social-Ecological Innovation: Steering away from multiple earth-system thresholds

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on May 10th, 2012

Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre


Photo by Stephen Cummings via flickr CC

“Many economic and technological solutions that address sustainability are ecologically illiterate and too linear and single-problem oriented.”

 

From “Time for social-ecological innovations” by Sturle Hauge Simonsen:

Humanity is now influencing every aspect of the Earth on a scale akin to the great forces of nature. If we are to stay within the planetary boundaries, major transformations are needed in the human-environment interactions. This includes innovations that can increase human well-being and at the same time enhance the capacity of ecosystems to produce services.

In a new book entitled “Social Innovation — Blurring Boundaries to Reconfigure Markets“, [Stockholm Resilience] centre researchers Per Olsson and Victor Galaz provide the first comprehensive description of the concept ‘social-ecological innovation’.

They define social-ecological innovation as “social innovation, including new technology, strategies, concepts, ideas, institutions, and organizations that enhance the capacity of ecosystems to generate services and help steer away from multiple earth-system thresholds”.

The chapter is part of a book edited by Alex Nicholls of the University of Oxford and Alex Murdock from London South Bank University. The book focuses on new innovations “that can grapple with the central real-world challenges of our time”.

“We need to move away from quick technological fixes and foster new types of social-ecological innovation,” argue Per Olsson and Victor Galaz.  “Many economic and technological solutions that address sustainability are ecologically illiterate and too linear and single-problem oriented. To solve the many complex and interconnected human-environment challenges of today we need a change of mindset.“

Olsson and Galaz point out that there are numerous examples of major socio-technological advances that have improved human life. The flipside is that too many of them have degraded the life-supporting ecosystems on which human well-being ultimately depends. Current large-scale transformations in areas like information technology, biotechnology and energy systems have huge potential to improve our lives in a sustainable way. However, this can only happen if we start working with, instead of against, nature. “Too often our societies change without improving the capacity to learn from, respond to, and manage environmental feedbacks. For example, a systemic shift to biofuels might slow climate change but lead to destructive land-use change and biodiversity loss,” Per Olsson explains.

Olsson and Galaz also warn about the tendency to apply single, technological solutions to complex problems. “This enhances the self-reinforcing feedback that keeps us on unsustainable pathways. Social-ecological innovation focuses on the interactions among a multitude of innovations that together can break current lock-ins and lead to systemic change.”

As a scientific approach, social-ecological innovation links research on social innovation and institutional entrepreneurship with resilience thinking and research on social-ecological systems.

Olsson and Galaz list a number of criteria for the kind of solutions they view as social-ecological innovations. In summary such innovations should:

  • Integrate both social and ecological (and economic) aspects.
  • Improve human life without degrading the life-supporting ecosystems (preferably even strengthening ecosystems) on which we ultimately depend.
  • Deal with multiple social and environmental challenges simultaneously (be sensitive to the fact that solving one problem often creates new ones, there are no ultimate solutions).
  • Work more directly for social justice, poverty alleviation, environmental sustain- ability and democracy than profits for individuals.
  • Break and/or help avoid lock-ins and create social-ecological feedbacks that help us stay within the safe operating space for humanity as defined by the planetary boundaries.
  • Include the creativity and ingenuity of users, workers, consumers, citizens, activists, farmers and businesses etc.
  • Utilise the power of social networks and organizations nested across scales (from local to national to regional to global) to enable systemic change at larger scales.
Read the original article by Sturle Hauge Simonsen


Flexibility in Resource-Based Employment: Fishing

Posted in Movements, Research by Kate Archdeacon on March 8th, 2012

Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre

Photo: Swiv via flickr CC
From “Sticking to their trade: Why fishermen keep fishing despite dwindling catches” by Sturle Hauge Simonsen:

A new report, recently published by PLoS ONE, challenges previously held notions about poverty and adaptation by investigating why fishermen in developing countries stick with their trade.

“We found that half of fishermen questioned would not be tempted to seek out a new livelihood — even if their catch declined by 50 per cent. But the reasons they cling on to their jobs are influenced by much more than simple profitability,” says lead author and centre researcher Tim Daw.

Fisheries are challenged by the combined effects of overfishing, climate change, deteriorating ecosystems and conservation policies. Understanding how fishermen respond to these changes is critical to managing fisheries. The research project is the largest of its kind and was undertaken as a joint project with the Wildlife Conservation Society, the School of Marine Science and Technology at Newcastle University, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Australia.

Researchers surveyed almost 600 fishers across Kenya, Tanzania, the Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar about how they would respond to hypothetical catch declines. They then investigated how social and economic conditions, such as local culture and socioeconomic development, influenced whether fishermen were willing to give up their trade.

“Surprisingly, fishermen in the more vibrant and developed economies were less likely to give up their trade — despite having more economically fruitful opportunities open to them,” says co-author Dr Joshua Cinner from the ARC Centre of Excellence for coral reef Studies in Australia.

[…]

“One of the unexpected findings was that fishermen in a poor country like Madagascar would leave the fishery sooner than those in wealthier countries such as Seychelles. The reason seems to be that they already have diversified livelihoods, while fishermen in wealthier countries may be locked into this occupation,” says Tim McClanahan from the Wildlife Conservation Society.  “This is contrary to many arguments about the impacts of management and climate change on poor people, so will surprise many people working in this field and on resource and disaster management policies”.

The findings add to a growing raft of literature which identifies multiple interlocking and dynamic factors which affect people’s capacity to deal with environmental change. It is hoped they will help identify points of intervention for conservation policies that aim to reduce fishing effort. They could also help communities become more adaptive to change.

“It also highlights the importance of understanding resource-based livelihoods, such as fishing and farming, in the context of the wider economy and society,” Tim Daw concludes.

Read the full article by Sturle Hauge Simonsen for the Stockholm Resilience Centre or go to the report.