Citizen science asks everyday volunteers to make observations about the world around them and add data to research projects that scientists use to answer big questions. When you do citizen science observations, you can enter the information in an app, take a photo, or answer a few questions in an online form and hit submit. This might be the end of your part of the process, but submitting a data point is only the first step in the long and rigorous journey from observation to scientific conclusions.
Along the way, your data will join hundreds or thousands of other observations in datasets that researchers use to answer big questions about our world, like “Why do all the trees bloom earlier each year?” » or « How to fight against Alzheimer’s disease? Sometimes, depending on the project, you can even help analyze the data.
The process of getting scientific data into real-word answers takes time – years in most cases – but the end result is reliable, impactful knowledge about pressing issues in today’s world. Scientists around the world are increasingly drawing data from citizen science projects as they recognize the unique value of these datasets.
Citizen science data appears in published scientific papers examining everything from how roads affect local bird populations to the mysterious aurora known as STEVE. As the volume of citizen science observations increases, the potential applications of the collected data will only increase, unlocking important new information that can benefit everyone. This data-driven insights could help act on climate issues, treatment for different diseases and more. These are just a few of the many recent scientific advances made possible by citizen science.
Stall Sensor Insights into Alzheimer’s Disease
THE Stall sensors citizen science project asks volunteers to watch short films of blood flowing through small blood vessels in the brains of mice. Volunteers look for stalls or places where blood circulation is blocked. These stalls are thought to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, and finding them helps researchers answer different research questions, like how the disease progresses and what treatments might work.
In a recent article published in the journal Brainscientists working with the project drew inspiration from thousands of Stall Catchers annotations made by volunteers to show that a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is involved in a cell signaling pathway that leads to more blockages in mouse brain.
Giving the mice an antibody called anti-mouse VEGF-A164 reduced the number of stalls, helping to confirm that VEGF was the culprit. The new findings indicate that VEGF signaling may also play a role in Alzheimer’s disease in humans, and that blocking it could potentially help treat the disease.
Citizen Science reveals how ocean plastic debris moves
plastic debris accumulates in the ocean, and part ends up returning to earth, carried away by the waves and tides. Several citizen science projects have volunteers scour beaches to see what kind of plastic debris they find and report back in hopes of identifying patterns and hotspots.
Data from such a project in Australia – with observations from 852 different sites – recently revealed that plastics accounted for around 75% of total human-made debris on the country’s beaches. The vast majority of these plastics came from land-based sources, indicating that most ocean plastics come from land, the researchers said, in a paper Posted in Total Environmental Science.
A different paper In Marine Pollution Bulletin using data collected in Washington and Oregon from Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) The citizen science project linked beaches with larger areas of kelp to higher levels of plastic. A kelp patch is the area where kelp and other materials, like floating plastic, settle during high tide, and citizen scientists are helping researchers establish a baseline for future studies of marine plastics on beaches.
Birdwatchers contribute to science
Birdwatchers, who already spend long mornings looking for birds to enjoy, make great citizen scientists. The citizen science project eBird harnesses this passion, recording more than 100 million bird sightings each year, with information about where and when.
eBird’s huge dataset has fueled a number of recent research papers on birds around the world. For example, a team of researchers created a model of large-scale bird migrations they named it “BIRDFLOW”, based on millions of sightings of 11 North American bird species. The model provides insight into migration routes and timing, and can inform migration forecasts, the researchers say, with potential applications in conservation, disease monitoring, aviation and more.
Other scientists have used eBird data to study birds living in hard-to-reach mountain snow and ice fields in the Pacific Northwest. Data on 46 species submitted by volunteers revealed four species that appear to prefer snowy habitats, increasing the overall number of bird species associated with these habitats by 14%.
Scientific papers based on eBird sightings have also tracked the spread of the invasive javanese myna in Malaysia and studied how roads affect different bird species in Spain and Portugal. Some species of birds seemed to be helped by the presence of roads while others were harmed by them, the researchers say, indicating that the effects of roads are likely to be complex and not always simple.
A glimpse of ever earlier springs
In many places around the world, the timing of seasonal events changes as climate change alters habitats and ecosystems. These annual events, such as the flowering of plants in spring or the changing color of leaves in autumn, are part of a field called phenology – the study of seasonal change.
To study the evolution of phenology itself, researchers recently compared two unique sets of citizen science data more than a century apart, both collected in New York City. The first came from sightings recorded between 1826 and 1872 at more than 90 locations in the state, and the second came from sightings made between 2009 and 2017 by nature notebook citizen science volunteers.
Comparing the two data sets has helped scientists see that plants today begin to flower an average of 10.5 days earlier than in the 19th century, and trees begin to sprout leaves an average of 19 days earlier. early. Seasonal changes occur about three days earlier for every degree Celsius of warming, researchers say in a article published in 2022 in the Journal of Ecology.
STEVE takes a closer look
The aurora-like phenomenon known as STEVE (or Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement), was first discovered by citizen scientists participating in the aurorasaurus project in 2016, which collaborated with professional researchers to use satellite data to probe its origins. STEVE looks like a streak of magenta light accompanied by green bars, sometimes called a palisade, moving west across the sky.
The colors are caused by charged particles interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field and can often be seen farther south than the auroras. Because STEVE was discovered so recently, there are still a number of unknowns around dancing colors.
Citizen scientists have recently teamed up with scientists to take a closer look at a few of these mysteries, in a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research Space Physics. Using observations from two citizen scientists, the authors studied STEVE’s shape, finding that the purple colors peak at about 200 km high, while the green bars peak at about 110 km. These green bars are also about 8.7 miles apart, and the whole phenomenon is moving across the sky at about 560 miles per hour, the researchers said.
Submit your own citizen science observations
Anyone can start participating in citizen science and make their own observations or analyze data, no matter where they live. There are citizen science projects you can do in your neighborhood, in your backyard, in your home, and even on your couch. Start researching citizen science projects using SciStarter Project search today and sign up for our newsletter for bi-weekly summaries of exciting new projects to try. Who knows… maybe your contribution could appear in a research paper as a revolutionary new discovery!