March 9, 2009

Become a Citizen Scientist

Here's your vocabulary word of the day, "Phenology: the study of recurring plant and animal life cycle events." This spring, the U.S. is getting serious about phenology and the USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) is looking to citizen scientists (you) to supply the data.

Many other countries around the world have been tracking the dates of first bloom, first fruit, first frost, etc. for decades so it may seem odd that the United States is only now officially getting into the act. Nevertheless, USA-NPN and its many partners including the US Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation, Project Budburst, and the University of Arizona, are making it easy for us to help gather data and record it online. This year USA-NPN is limited to plants but there are plans to include wildlife in the future.

Here's what you need to know to be part of USA-NPN's data gathering force:

Click here to visit the USA-NPN home page. Then click on "Participate."

Sign up to become an observer (a bit of a nuisance but not too difficult--just follow the directions in the e-mail they send you).

Select a site and plants you plan to observe and register them online. Name your site then type in its address. As you do this, a satellite image of the area and the latitude and longitude will pop up. You can click on the blue box at the bottom of the page to answer five quick questions about your observation site. Next you type in the plants you plan to observe or you can click on the list of plants USA-NPN is particularly interested in following. I picked the forsythia in my backyard.

Observe your plant often (at least once a week) and record your observations online. I couldn't record any observations immediately. I had to log out and then log in again. I guess they figure you'll need time to go look at your plant before writing anything. The form is easy. Just enter the date at the top of the data column then click on Y (yes) or N (no) for each of the questions about your plant. Then click submit.

For more information, click here to listen to Project Director Jake Weltzin on NPR's Science Friday.

Image: YELLOW CROCUS© Serghei Starus

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