Citizen science breaks new ground

By June 11th, 2009

Armed with digital cameras, phones with inbuilt GPS and other technology tools, Australia’s army of ‘citizen scientists’ are helping researchers collect data on an unprecedented scale, reports the latest issue of ECOS.

From monitoring whale shark movement to recording frog calls in ephemeral swamps, the public are helping researchers to build a comprehensive picture of changes in the environment.

ECOS 149 profiles the phenomenon of community environmental monitoring.

This includes the century-old tradition of volunteer collection of rainfall data for the Bureau of Meteorology, to the 5.5 million observations made by amateur birdwatchers for the Atlas of Australian Birds, to current programs such as Waterwatch, which alone involves 3 000 groups and 7 000 sites.

Experts interviewed by ECOS say citizen science is ramping up the level of scientific and environmental literacy in the community, as well as providing data that would not otherwise have been collected.

Data quality is being improved with the use of GPS – providing reliable spatial information – and Internet-based programs that use rigid protocols to collect and manipulate the data.

Finance leaders insulated from the GFC

ECOS 149 also looks at the comparative success of sustainability leaders in the financial sector as it faces the ongoing global financial crisis.

The article examines how the sustainability measures taken by international and Australian financial institutions have bolstered their viability. These measures include programs to fund community and social assistance initiatives, protect prime conservation habitat while offsetting the biodiversity lost due to new home constructions, and targeted investing in companies that are corporately and socially responsible.

Rebooting our e-waste problem

With the decision in late May by federal and state environment ministers to establish a national scheme to manage the recovery and recycling of end-of-life TVs and computers – known as e-waste – ECOS offers a timely perspective on the issue.

ECOS 149 also includes stories on:

  • More or less ice?: ECOS explains the critical difference between sea ice and ice sheets and presents that latest scientific thinking on the issue of global warming and melting of polar ice sheets.
  • Developing a systems-based approach to planning infrastructure: Integrating the need for major infrastructure development while identifying commitments to communities and the environment is the driving force behind a new sustainable development approach to major projects, starting with South East Queensland’s Traveston Dam.
  • An historic global research effort: International Polar Year is an historic polar research collaboration that saw Australian Antarctic scientists join polar researchers around the world during 2007–09 to take part in an intensive, internationally coordinated scientific research effort. Australia led five key projects.
  • Securing South Australia’s coastal bounty: An incredible diversity of marine species was recently recorded in the Chain of Bays, about 700km west of Adelaide, during an inaugural near-shore marine survey of the region by volunteer divers.
  • Aerial surveys hot on the minke trail: A new method of surveying whales may revolutionise the study of whale populations in Antarctica and inform conservation decisions by the International Whaling Commission.
  • Eco-cement saves 80 per cent: Cement production is estimated to be responsible for approximately 6 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. A promising alternative to common Portland cement is geopolymer cement, which results in up to 80 per cent less CO2 emissions. An Australian company is leading its manufacture.

ECOS magazine is available online at CSIRO PUBLISHING – ECOS Magazine Issue 149.

Download image at: Citizen science breaks new ground.

Fast facts

  • ECOS issue 149 includes articles on polar research collaboration, South Australia’s coastal bounty, and community environmental monitoring