March 1, 2019

Citizen science is making a resurgence

If you enjoy bird-watching, you can be a citizen scientist
By Lorraine Glowczak

Most imagine that the world of physics, chemistry and biology require a certain level of brain power and some may even assume the subjects bring with them a certain level of boredom. Add on the perception of the crazy mad scientist with wild hair and it is no wonder that the general population runs away and avoids these topics as fast as they can.

If you are one to have held this assumption, then you might be surprised to know that those who have found new planets and rediscovered lost bird species – were and continue to be the result of everyday people, like you and me. You don’t have to work in a lab or hold a degree in Microphysics to be a “real” scientist. An individual can contribute in many ways to science and even sometimes, do it right from the comfort of their back yard.

According to National Geographic online magazine, “Citizen science is the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research to increase scientific knowledge. Through citizen science, people share and contribute to data monitoring and collection programs. Collaboration in citizen science involves scientists and researchers working with the public. Interested volunteers, amateur scientists, students, and educators may network and promote new ideas to advance our understanding of the world.” the term, citizen science, is relatively new and has only been used for a short while, the concept has been around for decades (and in some cases, centuries). There are a variety of scientific fields that use citizen scientists such as astronomy, where citizen scientists collect observations and take photos. In the world of ornithology, amateur birders contribute data on breeding and migration. There are also the fields of medicine, botany and Limnology (study of lakes). In fact, since concerns have surfaced regarding the health of the lakes in the Lakes Region communities, citizen science has been an important factor to area studies of the inland bodies of water.

The Presumpscot Regional Land Trust (PRLT) have their own citizen science volunteer program.
“We run a 20-week water quality monitoring program that goes from May through September and involves collecting water samples every other Saturday morning from somewhere in our five-town region,” stated Toby Jacobs, PRLT Stewardship and Outreach Manager. “Most volunteers work in pairs or groups of three and sample three sites per group. Samples are tested for dissolved oxygen (high amounts of which is crucial for aquatic life) and bacteria (high levels of which can make water dangerous for drinking or swimming).”

Results from last year and a bit more information about the program is available at

Dave Nadeau, a Highland Lake resident and Windham Town Council member, has been working closely with scientist, Keith Williams, to monitor the water clarity as a result of the algae bloom the lake has been experiencing the past couple of years. The data he receives contributes to information as part of the study with the intent to identify and rectify the problem. “I use a disc, called a secchi disk, and I lower it into the water until I can’t see the disk any longer,” explained Nadeau. “I measure and record how many inches deep the disc goes in order to determine the clarity of the water.”

Nadeau also measures how much oxygen is in the lake. He began his volunteer efforts in July of last year, when the algae bloom began to make its appearance. Being out on the lake during the day to monitor gave him another opportunity to do an activity he enjoys. “When I am out on the lake to record the data, I go fishing.”
If you are interested in becoming a citizen scientist, there are a number of organizations that you can collaborate with. No matter what your interest is, there is something for you. Here is a small list to get you started.

*Photograph plants, animals, and other organisms on your own or as part of a BioBlitz. Use the iNaturalist app or to upload your observations and add them to a global database of biodiversity to support local to global research projects. 

*Measure Night-Sky Brightness - Join the Globe at Night program in documenting light pollution by submitting data based on the visibility of constellations.

*Search Space - Want a chance to have an interstellar dust particle named after you? Help NASA by volunteering for Stardust@home and searching images for tiny interstellar dust impacts.

*Bird Watch - Join eBird, an online checklist project created by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. Ebird allows people to report real-time bird sightings and observations.

If you are interested in participating with the PRLT, they have a variety of volunteer opportunities, “We are always taking volunteers to help us with trails to our new wildlife initiative to create habitat for key species in the region,” stated Jacobs. “People can sign-up and obtain information at”

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