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Exploring Earth with Citizen Science - Observing Our Home Planet

Written by Rusty Low, IGES

Over the past few weeks, we’ve explored citizen science projects that allow volunteers to assist in analyzing data from NASA space missions. But what about projects that allow citizen scientists to study their home planet? A number of great opportunities are available that offer a chance to explore Earth science, as well as allowing participants to stretch their legs and enjoy the outdoors.

The SatCam app lets registered observers use the camera in their iPhone, iPad, or iTouch to capture and submit observations of sky and ground conditions at the same time that an Earth observation satellite is overhead. These digital images help researchers check the quality of cloud products that are created from the satellite data. In return, the observer receives the corresponding satellite image from NASA’s Terra, Aqua, or Suomi NPP satellite that was captured of their location. All of the observer’s images, and satellite images received, are available in their SatCam app where they can browse back through the images by date.

Clouds are an important part of our atmosphere, and scientists are studying how they affect our weather and climate. Observations from the S’COOL Program - Student Cloud Observations On-Line - are providing one more piece of the puzzle. S’COOL involves students and citizen scientists (ages 5-20+) in real-world research by making and reporting cloud observations at the time of a satellite overpass. These data assist in validating measurements by NASA’s CERES satellite instruments, which observe clouds from space. Formal and informal science educators will find several educational activities and lessons from S’COOL in NASA Wavelength that build atmospheric science understanding.

S’COOL was designed for a formal classroom setting. When a class registers to be a SCOOL observer, their teacher is registered under a specific latitude and longitude for which observations are submitted as a class. These cloud observations are stored in the S’COOL database so classes can track their progress and compare their observations to those of other classrooms.

A specialized component of S’COOL is the Rover project. Designed for the citizen scientist community, including K-12 students and everyone else, this project designates observers as “Rovers,” or roaming S’COOL cloud observers. Roving observers report their observations with a unique nickname so that they can track their observations and satellite matches for the same time, as well as compare their observations to those of other roving observers.

Picture Post, a part of the Digital Earth Watch Network (DEW), is a project that supports environmental monitoring through digital photography. Citizen scientists take photos of landscapes using a Picture Post: an 8-sided platform for taking repeat photographs of the entire landscape and an “up” picture of the sky. Participants can register and upload the photos to the PicturePost Network. The project website includes tips and information on installing a post, taking and uploading photos, picture post projects, and more.

The projects listed above are only some of the Earth citizen science opportunities available for students and would-be citizen scientists. Next week, we’ll continue our series in a post on The GLOBE Program, a program for primary and secondary students focused on environmental education.

Have you incorporated citizen science projects into your classroom? Do you know of a great resource we didn’t mention? Let us know your thoughts!

Check out our other posts on citizen science in the classroom: