Discussion following Sara Powell seminar on Getting out of the Lake and into the Watershed: a study of volunteer monitoring efforts, water quality, and community outreach

Bill Dennison ·
30 March 2010
Learning Science | 

This blog post discusses the seminar given by Sara Powell, of the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, at the IAN Seminar Series on February 25, 2010.

The issue of what constitutes a citizen scientist was discussed, and several issues regarding data quality assurance were raised. The turnover of different citizen scientists means that ongoing training was necessary. Mechanisms to cull bad data are needed with citizen scientist groups.

The value of using a citizen scientist monitoring group in Sara's example from South Carolina was in the rapid identification of the source of the turbidity problem (off road vehicle park) and the approach to the park owners to develop a sustainable solution (erosion control measures). In this way, a group of concerned citizens was able to raise the issue and it was not perceived as a government mandated regulation that would likely provoke a negative response by the land owner. Good stewardship can viewed as being a good neighbor—this is transcends political or regulatory approaches.

It was recognized that citizen scientist groups often lack good equipment and calibration of sensors requires ongoing maintenance. Thus, both an investment to buy the equipment and ongoing investments to maintain it are required.

It was pointed out that some individual citizen scientists can and have maintained long data records, and this continuity can result in powerful data sets. Often, these individuals have some scientific training or background, and realize the importance on long term data sets in environmental monitoring.

A frustration with some citizen scientists is the lack of an immediate response to their data, both because the detection of trends can take a long time and because the analysis and interpretation of data can be delayed.

The citizen science model being developed by EcoCheck, a) using riverkeeper groups to organize the citizen scientists, b) developing a quality assurance program in collaboration with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, c) regularly producing synthetic products (report cards) was discussed. The importance of having a link between the citizen scientists and the professional scientists was emphasized. Overlapping stations for comparison where both citizen scientists and professional scientists conduct measurements were noted as a good practice to institute when and where possible.

About the author

Bill Dennison

Dr. Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr. Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.

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