Citizen scientists have now contributed over one million recorded observations to a climate and nature database run by the US National Phenology Network. It's a good day for phenology! (I'll spare you the Googling; it's "the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate")
The USNPN helps thousands of volunteers across the country document their observations about wildlife; their work is then entered into a growing database that scientists can tap into to aid their research. In a national moment rife with shrinking budgets and a burgeoning need for more data, this crowd-sourcing project could prove exceedingly useful.
The US Geological Survey (USGS), which runs USNPN (love them unwieldy bureaucratic acronyms), released the details in an announcement today:
The millionth observation was done by Lucille Tower, a citizen-scientist in Portland, Ore., who entered a record about seeing maple vines flowering. Her data, like all of the entries, came in through USA-NPN’s online observation program, Nature's Notebook, which engages more than 4,000 volunteers across the country to observe and record phenology – the timing of the recurring life events of plants and animals such as when cherry trees or lilacs blossom, when robins build their nests, when salmon swim upstream to spawn or when leaves turn colors in the fall.Observations like this will help scientists better understand the myriad impacts of climate change, and allows them much further reach by crowd-sourcing the data-gathering effort. As the USGS notes, "Changes in phenology are among the most sensitive biological indicators of global change. Across the world, many springtime events are occurring earlier — and fall events happening later — than in the past."
Who know, for example, how the hottest-ever March screwed with ecosystems across the U.S.?
USGS Director Marcia McNutt is looking to harness even more citizen scientists to find out. She wants to expand the project's reach even further, and hopes to get even more of the public on board. "We could make giant leaps in science education, improve the spatial and temporal coverage of the planet, lower the cost of scientific data collection, and all while making ordinary citizens feel a part of the scientific process," she says.