Citizen science can help combat climate change – US Embassy
October 18, 2016
Citizen science can help combat climate change – US Embassy

The US Embassy (Bridgetown) is encouraging ordinary citizens to become involved in helping to mitigate the effects of climate change – through the use of their smartphones.

Last Thursday, October 13, a team from the US Embassy (Bridgetown) conducted a workshop at the Beachcombers Hotel to promote the use of a smartphone application called ‘iNaturalist,’ which allows data to be uploaded to a ‘cloud’ (globally-accessed database).{{more}}

Dr Gillian Bowser, research scientist at the Colorado State University, explained that data contributed by everyday citizens – citizen science – helps researchers identify patterns in regard to climate change.

“We can use that data then to see can we track trends, can we track patterns, can we see something. So, it means anyone, from a schoolchild to a community member, can actually help collect data and see how climate change impacts an area,” pointed out Dr Bowser.

“Most climate change impacts are large, and they are across a wide geographic scale. So, having citizens engaged where they can actually measure impacts… helps scientists,” she further explained. “They can do that with something as simple as a cell phone.”

Using the free app iNaturalist (available in the app stores on Android and iOS), citizens can upload photos and other data to the ‘cloud’, which can be accessed by persons around the globe.

Dr Bowser emphasized that the key to overcoming climate change is to identify patterns and trends happening within the environment, which is greatly assisted by citizen science.

“Then you can actually do something. If you don’t know what those patterns are, it’s really hard for communities to respond to that climate change.”

She added: “If they have the tools to measure climate change then people are more able to adapt to what those changes are.”

Some of the changes persons can observe and report are rises in sea levels, introduction of invasive species, the discovery of new species and the decline in indigenous species, among others.

Dr Bowser further noted: “There is also the importance of the impact on human health. So, invasive species that move, that bring in health issues… Community members can know how to identify it. Is that species now present that wasn’t here before, and does that bring in disease that wasn’t here before; and how do those things move around and how to control for that.”

The ‘cloud’ system, which is sponsored by National Geographic, is also being used by several environmental organizations and entities such as the US National Parks Service, which has been collating environmental information (independent of the ‘cloud’ database) for over a decade.

Also part of the US Embassy team was Jeff Barrus, deputy public affairs officer at the Barbados-based embassy, who explained that these workshops have been held not only in St Vincent and the Grenadines, but also in St Lucia and Dominica.

“The workshops give ordinary people a way to measure the impacts of climate change in their communities,” shared Barrus.

“The reason the Embassy is interested in this is because we know the impacts can have a really detrimental effect on not only the economies, but even health backers in the Caribbean or… food security. All of that is tied together with the impacts of climate change.”

He added: “One of the key issues that we are facing in the region is that all of these Caribbean states are very susceptible to the impacts of climate change. So, what we are trying to do through this programme is raise general awareness of what some of those impacts are. We’re trying to do that through a citizen science approach.”

Dr Bowser also explained that the workshop has not only targeted adults, but also students.

“My hope is that students, who are interested in moving into this as a career, will learn how to access big data sets, and how to take the patterns in the big data set to use to ask a question locally.” (JSV)