Citizen Scientist Opportunity: IceWatch

IceWatch: Citizen Scientist Project Exams Ecosystems via Ice

In addition to the sophisticated data that climatologists collect, some of the most valuable information helping to inform studies of climate change can be collected by citizen scientists! By helping scientists to identify changes in the beginning and ending of the coldest part of the winter, citizen scientists can become a part of studies of the climate changes taking place in regions all over the country.

This winter, families can contribute to climate studies by participating in IceWatch, a citizen science initiative that works to collect information about the ice-in and ice-out times of various bodies of water across the continent. By regularly observing a lake, pond, river, or bay, families can help to inform scientists about the length of the cold season which, when compared to data from past years, can help to determine the amount by which climate change has progressed regionally.

In order to participate, families of citizen scientists must first identify a local body of water to observe. The best places to observe are areas that are largely unaffected by human interference, such as dams, industrial outlets, or agricultural operations (such as large-scale livestock watering or fish farming). Here in western Massachusetts, many rivers and streams are dammed, but not all are actively being used for hydropower – meaning that they may still be suitable for observation. A little bit of research into the role of a dam up or downstream from your desired observation point can help to determine whether or not the body of water is affected by human interference while gaining a better sense of your local surroundings…

After selecting an observation point, sign up with IceWatch! Signing up means making a commitment to regular observations, meaning families should plan to visit their observation site regularly in order to record air temperature, the percentage of the water body that is covered in ice, general weather information, and things that you notice about wildlife, such as the presence of certain birds and signs of mammals. It’s important to observe the same portion of the body of water each time, and to do so from the same viewing point. Families participating in the project will be asked to provide a photo and description of the point from which they observe, allowing others to make further observations from the same point in the future.

By participating in IceWatch, families will not only be contributing to important studies of our changing planet, but will be supporting their children in learning to use scientific processes. Children will practice using good data collection skills, and will build an understanding of the importance of accuracy in observations while recording their data. In addition, children will learn about winter ecology and will develop a deeper awareness of the seasonal changes that take place around them. This learning will be made meaningful by its purpose, providing meaning for the work and allowing children to feel empowered to continue their work as citizen scientists in the future.

[Photo credit: (cc) Shane Gorski]

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