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Tapping Crowds to Track California’s Weeds

Help map the spread of invasive plants with a smartphone app

Jeremy Miller

Artichoke thistle flower in Wildcat Canyon Regional Park. Citizens with smartphones can help in a statewide weed-mapping initiative.

If you have a sharp eye for invasive plants – and a smartphone – you can help a Bay Area non-profit in its effort to document the distribution and spread of invasive plants across California.

The Berkeley-based California Invasive Plant Council, or Cal-IPC, has found that weeds cost the state at least $82 million annually in terms of increased erosion and flooding, degraded agricultural land and reduced water supplies.

California is hardly alone. A 2005 study by researchers from Cornell University put the nationwide cost of battling invasive weeds at a staggering $120 billion [PDF].

Climate change is making the issue even more complex, says Doug Johnson, Cal-IPC’s executive director, who is trying to better understand how non-native plants may respond and how they may gain advantage over native plants during prolonged bouts of warming or cooling. Continue reading

Californians Stand By Call for Climate Action

…though most remain clueless about the state’s imminent cap-and-trade program

Craig Miller / KQED

Wind turbines in Solano County. 78% of Californians polled favor federal support for renewable energy.

Much has been made lately of Berkeley physicist Richard Muller’s recent “conversion” to the position that global warming is both happening and stoked by human activity.* But it turns out that the controversial scientist and author has been playing catch-up.

In a statewide survey released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), 60% of Californians polled said that the effects of global warming have already begun. Asking the question in a slightly different way, both the Brookings Institution and the Pew Center for People & the Press found that in 2011, 60% and 63% of Americans, respectively, believed that there was solid evidence that global warming is happening.

Californians took it a step further, however, with nearly three-in-four of the 2,500 participants responding that government should take steps to “counter the effects of global warming right away.” PPIC conducted the survey in July and it includes responses in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. Continue reading

Talking Climate, Online in Real Time

Stanford professor is using new tools to hang out and chat

Stanford University

Stanford professor Noah Diffenbaugh is using real time, online video chat to engage the public in discussions of climate science.

Noah Diffenbaugh, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford, has focused largely on climate variability and the influence of humans on the global climate system. Lately, he’s also being spending time in the cloud.

In April, he launched an online discussion forum called Hangouts on Air, in which participants from anywhere around the world (with a broadband connection, that is) can participate in real-time online discussions about climate.

Participation has been limited in these first months, but Diffenbaugh says the model holds promise for engaging the public on the complex, contentious and rapidly evolving issues in climate science. He agreed to answer some questions for Climate Watch. Continue reading

Zooming in on L.A.’s Warming Climate

First-of-its-kind study breaks down predictions for 27 L.A. microclimates

Kimberly Ayers

Green roofs like this one at Vista Hermosa City Park are part of the solution for Los Angeles

Listen to the radio version of this story on The California Report.

The City and County of Los Angeles now have customized climate predictions, thanks to a new UCLA study that took global climate science and made it local. A UCLA supercomputer ran for eight months to downscale 22 different global climate models, distilling them into a surgically precise look at L.A. County and beyond. It’s a new kind of Hollywood close-up and it’s a sobering one: temperatures will rise in areas of Los Angeles County by an average of 4 to 5 degrees by mid-century.

Commissioned by the city of Los Angeles, funded by a U.S. Department of Energy grant and conducted by UCLA’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, the study focused on forecasting for the metro area between 2041 and 2060. But instead of relying on the global climate model grids that use data from 100 kilometer-square cells of the earth’s surface, the UCLA team’s “quintillion-plus” calculations — yes, that’s with 18 zeros — zoom in to a resolution of 2 square kilometers, just over a square mile.  So instead of data and forecasting for the whole county, you can talk specifically about climate change for Corona, for example. Continue reading

Bay Area’s Controversial Housing & Transit Plan Clears Hurdle

State law requires that every metro area have one–but try pleasing everybody

ABAG/MTC

Drawing of a proposed string of high-density, bike- friendly, mass transit-oriented developments along a stretch of El Camino Real between Daly City and San Jose.

A sweeping “green” vision for the future of transit and housing in the Bay Area inched a step closer to realization in Oakland last night.

Officials from the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission voted on portions of Plan Bay Area, a 25-year strategy for land use and transportation for the Bay Area’s growing population, which is expected to surpass nine million by 2040.

The plan also proposes ways to meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction target of 15% by 2035 outlined under SB 375, the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act – namely by encouraging high-density housing near transit hubs and along corridors. Continue reading

Is Your Town California’s “Coolest?”

Let the Carbon Games begin: cities compete to cut emissions

Phil Schermeister

Sacramento is one of the cities competing to be "Coolest California City."

We must’ve missed the opening ceremonies with the parade of flag-bearing competitors and giant torch-lighting — or maybe it was canceled to save energy. Either way, ten California cities are competing over the next year to reduce their carbon emissions.

Individuals, local governments and businesses will all be involved in the project, called the Cool California Challenge. The Cool California website has a carbon calculator, tips on reducing your footprint and links to rebates. Plus there’s a social media element, so you can envy, goad or cooperate with your neighbors as you see fit.

The competing cities are Chula Vista, Citrus Heights, Davis, Gonzales, Pittsburg, Pleasanton, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, San Jose and Tracy. Participants — whether they’re individuals, companies or other types of organizations — earn points by being more carbon-conscious.

Continue reading

Citizen Science Project Blooms With Early Spring

Contributions to Nature’s Notebook have surged since spring has sprung

Molly Samuel

Tracking of when flowers bloom--and how the date changes over time--can help provide insight into how they're affected by weather and climate change.

The participative science project known as Nature’s Notebook is closing in on its one-millionth observation. The crowd-sourced program collects data from across the country on the timing of natural events like plants flowering, leaves growing and eggs hatching. The study of those seasonal life stages, called phenology, gives scientists insight into how they’re connected to each other, and how they’re affected by climate and weather.

Jake Weltzin, the executive director of the USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN), which manages Nature’s Notebook, said he thinks that spring arriving ahead of schedule across much of the country has sparked people’s interest.

Continue reading

Life After Wildfire: Studying How Plants Bounce Back

After a fire at a California state park, volunteers used satellite imagery to study the recovery

Henry Coe Park in Santa Clara County is big: 87,000 acres of former ranch land, dotted with oak trees, meadows that burst with wildflowers each spring, and vast stretches of chaparral. Given that Coe is nestled near Silicon Valley, it makes sense that the retirees who volunteer here bring a certain technical bent to their appreciation of the place.

Case in point: the Lick Fire of September 2007 (Craig Miller reported on it for The California Report). Named the Lick Fire after it was first spotted from the nearby Lick Observatory, the wildfire burned 47,760 acres in the Mt. Hamilton Range by the time it was contained, eight days later.

Since then, citizen scientists who volunteer for the park have been paying close attention to see how the burned land bounces back. In particular: Bob Patrie, a former project manager in Silicon Valley, and Winslow Briggs, Director Emeritus at Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Department of Plant Biology. Together, they’ve pored over satellite imagery to document the impact of the fire on various plant communities in Coe Park.

Continue reading

Six Citizen Science Projects that Help Keep Tabs on Climate Impacts

Count some birds, shoot a wave, set out a rain gauge — the sky’s the limit

Molly Samuel

An iPhone can be a field guide, a tool for recording observations and a way to share data.

Today is the first day of the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, when people all over North America tally the birds they see and record their results on the GBBC website. It’s a simple citizen science project to try. Even if you don’t know your birds, you can print out a list of what you’re likely to see in your area to help figure out which bird you’re looking at. And as the four-day project progresses, you can watch results come in from all over the continent.

The Bird Count is important to scientists, too. The information you collect helps answer questions about how bird populations are doing and how migrating birds are responding to the weather or climate change

But the Great Backyard Bird Count is far from the only citizen science project worth trying. While some science is done by people in crisp white lab coats, with specialized tools, a lot of it isn’t. Scientists don’t just work in labs, they don’t just use beakers and Bunsen burners, and most of the time they’re not wearing lab coats.

Also: you don’t have to be a scientist to do science.

Continue reading

War of Watts: Neighbors Compete for Lowest Energy Use

Pitting neighbors against one another isn’t always a bad thing...is it?

Hear the companion radio feature to this post on KQED’s The California Report.

“Keeping Up With the Joneses,” the 1920s-era comic strip that inspired the catch-phrase of the same name, is a classic reminder of the ridiculous lengths we sometimes go to just to impress our neighbors. The need to “keep up” has driven plenty of neighborhoods into frenzies of conspicuous consumption—fueling spending sprees on everything from pink socks and fur-lined miniskirts, to microwaves and McMansions.  But can that same impulse really inspire a trend in “non-consumption?”

According to a growing body of research [PDF download] by environmental economists and behavioral psychologists, the answer is a resounding: Yes! Here are some of interesting nuggets to come out of that research. Continue reading