Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tales from the Road: St. John, USVI

The discovery of St. John is the same as that of St. Thomas which is not all that surprising considering that they are right next to each other. Christopher Columbus is credited for discovering it in 1493 but the island had been visited and inhabited by indigenous peoples long before that, as evidenced by the petroplyphs found on the island. Early European settlers established sugar plantations worked mostly by African slaves. In the late 1600's the British and the Danes disputed over ownership of the island. On March 25, 1718 Danish planters from St. Thomas raised their flag over the first permanent settlement on the island at Estate Carolina in Coral Bay. The British continued to overtake the Danes on St. John until 1762 when they relinquished their claims to keep up good relations. Sugar, and also cotton, became the major industries with 109 plantations that covered almost the entire island. The adoption of a harsh slave code, the arrival of an elite group of African tribal rulers who preferred death to life as slaves, and a harsh summer of natural disasters lead to the Slave Revolt of 1733 when the island's slaves rose up and took control of the island. They held the island for seven months before the Danes enlisted the help of the French Marines to put down the revolt. The Danes built a prison, known as the Battery, in Cruz Bay intended to improve the treatment of slaves by making justice a government issue rather than leaving it to individual planters. They abolished slavery in 1848, prompted by a revolt on St. Croix. After this the main economy was mostly small scale subsistence farming, a hard life that cost the island much of its population. St. John was purchased along with St. Thomas to become part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. One of the things St. John is best known for is its large National Park which started as 5000 acres donated to the Federal Government by Laurence Rockefeller in 1956.

The Virgin Islands National Park includes 7200 acres of land and 5600 acres of underwater lands. It encompasses over half the island of St. John and almost all of Hassel Island. All together it is one of the most undisturbed and comprehensive Caribbean landscapes. There are several significant historical sites including archaeological sites that date as early as 840 BC. The large span of the park means that it covers a variety of ecosystems and forest types from dry to moist forests, salt ponds, beaches, mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reefs, and algal plains. Much of the vegetation on the island is second generation growth as the original vegetation was clear-cut to make way for sugar cane production. Some native species of tyre palm remain, but much of today's growth consists of introduced The animal species on St. John are abundant with 140 species of birds, 302 species of fish, 7 species of amphibians, 22 species of mammals, and many species of insects. The National Park's marine areas are also quite diverse with hundreds of species of fish and beautiful coral reefs  that are open to visitors.

Traveled up to Trunk Bay and the Underwater Snorkling Trail which is part of the Virgin Islands National Park.
Along the way was some beautiful scenery.
We would be driving along and then the trees would part to show beautiful views!
Most of the drive through the Park was surrounded by lush vegetation.
After a morning of snorkling, back in Cruz Bay we found the only ice cream place. Yum.
Part of Cruz Bay.
St. John as we leave on the ferry to St. Thomas.
Unfortunately all of my underwater pictures while snorkling Trunk Bay came out in a horrible blue-green washed color. Photoshop and I will be endeavoring to correct the color but the prospect looks dim. Bummer.

Some websites to find out more about the history of St. John:
St. John Historical Society
VInow's St. John History Page
The Beach's St. John History Page

And I really recommend looking around the National Park Service's Virgin Islands National Park website. It includes some great natural science information as well as links to other great websites, field guides, and animal and plant checklists.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Settling Sediment

I found a nice paper on the coral reef environment in the Caribbean. But first, because I haven't introduced it yet, and so I can refer back to it in the future: Coral. What is it?

Coral is an animal that belongs to the phylum cnidaria (ni dare ee ah, that c is silent folks). This is a very diverse group that consists of jellyfish, corals, and other stingers. These animals sting because they are armed with stinging cells called nematocysts. If you've ever come face to tentacle with a jellyfish then you are aware of their painful potential. There are four major groups of cnideria: Anthozoa (true corals, anemones, sea fans, and sea pens), Cubozoa (box jellies), Hydrozoa (siphonophores, hydroids, fire corals, and medusae), and Scyphozoa (true jellyfish).

We will be concentrating on the first because it includes the corals that build the large reefs found in tropical waters, generally between 30 degrees N and 30 degrees S latitudes. Various types of coral species can be found at various depths, but reef-building corals are usually found at depths of less than 46m (150ft). This a warm depth that allows sunlight to get through to feed their zooxanthellae. Zooxanthellae (zoo zan thell ee) are a type of microscopic algae that have a symbiotic relationship with coral. This shallow water depth also tends to be close to shorelines where wave action is abundant and brings in food to these filter feeders. The temperature and salinity of these waters also allows for the precipitation of calcium which the corals use to build their hard skeletons. Within a skeleton lives an individual coral polyp. A polyp starts off life as a floating animal but when it reaches adulthood it becomes sedentary and its body changes to a tubular saclike shape with a central mouth surrounded by a ring of tentacles. These tentacles are used for defense and for moving food to the mouth, and they contain the nematocysts which are double-walled structures containing a folded, venom-filled thread with a barbed tip that can shoot out and penetrate prey. The wonderful colors of the coral reef come from the natural pigments of the coral tissue or the zooxanthellae. Coral reefs are formed as old coral dies and new coral builds on top of it, a process taking hundreds or thousands of years, and a reef is made up of millions of individual polyps. The corals within this ecosystem remove and recycle carbon dioxide, shelter and provide food for other reef animals, and can even offer some protection to the land.

Humans contribute to the deterioration of coral reefs in a number of ways. Physical damage caused by boats, recreational contact (touching coral kills it, so hands and fins off!), and over-fishing cause a lot of ecological stress to reefs. The runoff of sediments, contaminants and nutrients from agriculture, industry, sewage, and land clearing are also stressful. Additionally, coral bleaching is occurring at a rapid rate. This is when the environmental conditions no longer support the symbiotic relationship of corals with zooxanthellae. No colored zooxanthellae, no colored coral. No symbionts equals coral death.

An older, but still relevant, paper published in the Bulletin of Marine Science reports on a project that monitored the effects of land development on a near-shore reef in St. Thomas, USVI. Land development in the Virgin Islands has rapidly increased, particularly up from the shoreline. This development means the removal of natural vegetation and construction of roads, increasing erosion rates. That means lots more silt and clay that gets into the water. As I mentioned above, sedimentation is very stressful and deleterious to coral. It is just dirt, you may think, so how is that bad? Well, sediments decrease light penetration (which reduces photosynthesis in zooxanthellae and coral growth), settling sediment contributes to tissue loss or mortality (it reduces larval settlement and it literally smothers the coral polyps), it increases coral energy costs (increasing respiration while decreasing photosynthesis), and chronic sedimentation may reduce the abundance and diversity of corals and other reef organisms (increasing susceptibility to diseases, bleaching, and predation and decreasing recovery rates after disturbances). Because of these detrimental effects the Virgin Islands Coastal Zone Management (CZM) has implemented a strict code for developers proposing building projects in sensitive shoreline areas, and academic and government organizations conduct reef assessments to quantify the impact of development on the coral reef environment.

This study's objectives were to measure the rates of sedimentation, monitor water quality, quantify changes in the abundance and diversity of sessile reef organisms, document the acute and chronic effects of sedimentation on coral condition, and develop management guidelines for evaluating the effectiveness of sediment control measures. The conducted their study a fringing coral reef in Caret Bay, on the northwest side of St. Thomas, particularly looking at the Caret Bay Villas construction site in relation to this reef. The conducted a sediment analysis using sediment traps at 5 and 12 meters, calculating sediment load and composition. They also did seawater analysis, collecting water along transects to look for suspended solids and turbidity. They also measured the percent cover of scleractinian (stony) corals, sponges, encrusting gorgonians (sea whips and sea fans), and macro algae. Using quadrants they identified and counted gorgonians and focus monitored individual coral heads of Porites astreoides and Montastrea annularis.

They found that the distribution of fine sediments along the reef were more concentrated in shallow depths, and that coarse sediments were only deposited in traps during months when large ground swells occurred.  The patterns of sedimentation relative to rainfall was related to the progress of the Villas' construction. The percent cover of living coral was found to have declined 14% over 18 months. This large decline may have resulted from dislodgement by large waves in the winter, smothering from sedimentation, or death due to pigment loss. They did document dislodgement but it is unlikely that that this was the sole mortality factor.  The authors also rule out much mortality due to direct smothering since they never actually observed it. They concludef that it is most likely that the majority of the mortality was related to the indirect effects of sedimentation and bleaching. They found strong evidence that the bleaching of corals was strongly correlated to sedimentation rates. So more suspended sediments equals an increased likelihood that corals will bleach. And this is in line with other studies.

This study is nice because it provides direct evidence that sedimentation (in this case from land development) cause stress to corals and may lead to their decline due to bleaching. It also provides good evidence for management practices along sensitive shorelines.

Here's the paper:
Nemeth, Richard S. and Joshua Sladek Nowlis (2001) Monitoring the effects of land development on the near-shore reef environment of St. Thomas, USVI. Bulletin of Marine Science: 69(2), 759-775. (LINK)

If you like this then I also recommend this more recent marine ecology survey:
Pittman, Simon, Ron Kneib, Charles Simenstad, and Ivan Nagelkerken (2011) Seascape ecology: application of landscape ecology to the marine environment. Marine Ecology Progress Series: 427, 187-190. (DOI: 10.3354/meps09139)

And here's some more info on corals:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Page on Coral Reefs
Ocean World's Coral Page
Berkeley's Introduction to Cnideria
SeaWorld's Corals and Coral Reefs Page
Kansas Geological Survey's Biogeoinformatics of Hexacorals

(image from

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tales from the Road: St. Thomas, USVI

St. Thomas is one of the islands that make up the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). Credit for the island's discovery is given to Christopher Columbus during his second voyage in 1493, but was likely first inhabited by the Arawak and then Carib Indians. After that it became the home of pirates including legendary figures such as Blackbeard and Bluebeard. The deep natural harbor of what is now Charlotte Amalie was a particular favorite. In 1666, the Danes made their first colonization attempts for agricultural development, building Fort Christian at this harbor. The city of Taphus was the name given to what is now known as Charlotte Amalie and remained so until 1691 when it was renamed after the wife of King Christian V. The city was very important as a trading port in the late 1600's into the mid-1700's as a place where slavers, pirates, and merchants could anchor and trade. It became a free port in 1764. When steamships became popular in the 1840's St. Thomas became an important coaling station for ships running between North and South America. On  March 31, 1917, the island went from Danish rule to a territory of the United States to keep it from being taken by the Germans in World War I. They remained under U.S. Navy Rule until 1931, during which many major public works and social reform projects were undertaken The island has an elected governor since 1969 and holds a non-voting seat in the U.S. Congress. Currently, tourism is one of the biggest industries, the island is a popular vacation spot and cruise ship destination.

The view from my hotel room on the eastern edge of St. Thomas, near Red Hook.

*sigh* Just had to lay on this beach all day. Life is rough.

One of the docks in Charlotte Amalie.

Arrrr...pirates be anchorin' in Charlotte Amalie.

Doing some shopping in the historic district of Charlotte Amalie.

On the road back to Red Hook from Charlotte Amalie. What you can't see is me holding on for dear life as the driver whips around hairpin mountain turns.

Here are some good websites on the history of St. Thomas:
VInow's History Page
The Beach, USVI History Page
St. Thomas Visitor's Center Culture and History Page
Trip Advisor's St. Thomas History Page

Monday, September 19, 2011

Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Ahoy, ya bilge rats, it be that most famous day of the year, ITLAPD (International Talk Like a Pirate Day). So grab a buxom wench or a seaworthy lad to practice your Arrrr's and learn a lesson on our favorite day, ya salty sea-dog. Aye, let's first get ye warmed up with some pirate-slang lessons...

Some might ask, why post about pirate-talk on a science blog. A few reasons: (1) why not? (2) you can't deny that talking like a pirate is super-fun, (3) I just got back from the Caribbean and although this isn't the scientific paper I promised it is still applicable, and (4) although it isn't directly linked to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster it does have some fun tie-ins.

ITLAPD started on June 6, 1995 when John Baur and Mark Summers were playing racquetball. During the game they started giving encouragement in pirate-slang. One thing led to another until they decided that there really needed to be a national new holiday, Talk Like a Pirate Day. Mark came up with September 19th, his ex-wife's birthday (I'm sure she was so flattered), and they decided that Dave Barry would be the perfect spokesman. Things stayed pretty quiet after that. Until 2002 when they chanced upon Dave Barry's email address and explained their idea to him. Dave responded affirmatively and "all hell broke loose." Since then ITLAPD has become an international phenomenon.

That explanation covers most of the points on my why-list except for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). Now I'm not going to go all into this topic because the subjects aren't directly linked, they simply share a common topic...pirates. The Church of FSM emerged when Bobby Henderson posted this open letter to the Kansas School Board after their decision to permit the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in public school science classes (but perhaps that is a topic for another day). Essentially, the Church of FSM believes that an invisible and undetectable flying spaghetti monster created the universe. Pirates were the original Pastafarians and were peaceful explorers until Christian misinformation listed them as outcast criminals. This actually supports that the religion is totally legit because it is backed by hard science, as evidenced by the pirate vs. global temperature data. If you refer to the graph below you will clearly see that as the numbers of pirates have decreased the average global temperature has increased. And here we find the unintentional but fantastic link between ITLAPD and FSM. Perhaps if more of us adopted piratey ways then we could decrease or even reverse global temperature rise.

So practice up on the pirate-talk ye scurvy dawgs and help to fight global warming. Arrrr....

The Official Site for International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Talk Like a Pirate Day UK Headquaters

Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tales from the Road: South Beach, Again

If you have been reading my blog long enough then you might remember a series of posts from last year that I titled Tales from the Road. That series alternated between a place that I visited and a scientific article about or related to that place. This next series of posts will have that same structure.

I very recently returned from a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands. My relaxing vacation did not start out all that relaxing. Due to Hurricane Maria we were delayed in Miami for a night. Not one to waste a day in Miami, I once again headed over to South Beach. Now, since I already blogged about and provided links for this location in the original Tales from the Road: South Beach I won't go over all that again. I'll just provide some lovely pictures. Enjoy!

I'm convinced that it is never sunny when I go to South Beach.

Ocean Drive

South Beach's famous, colorful lifeguard towers.

Yeah, I'm a treehugger. But then, you already knew that.

The accompanying article for the original South Beach post is called Pale is Pretty.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Citizen Science. Get Involved.

Citizen science is becoming more and more popular these days. And why shouldn't it? It is an opportunity for volunteers, who may or may not have specific scientific training, to contribute to ongoing scientific research. The volunteer gets the benefit of participating in a task they are interested in and the scientist gets the benefit of many people going through very large amounts of data, allowing them to accomplish their research objectives. It is just a great way to involve the individual as well as promoting public engagement in science.

Citizen science is not a new concept, it has been around for centuries. However, with advances in technology and the rise of the Internet it has become so much easier to get people involved, especially across large geographic areas. And in most cases the human brain is much better at analyzing images and other data than a computer. Add to that the number of replications you can have when multiple people classify the same image and you can see how errors can be decreased and new discoveries made.

So how does this whole thing work and how can you get involved? Well, first, think about a scientific topic that interests you: ornithology, astronomy, climate change, geology...whatever. The scope of science is so big that there is likely a project that fits your interests. Next, you need to find a project. They come in several varieties. First there is the scope: international, national, regional, or local. Next there is the type of activity you want to do: field work, image or data analysis, or just contributing some of your computer's power. And finally, how long do you want to spend working on this: years, months, or hours. That sounds like a lot but once you have figured these parameters out it will make it much easier to find a projects that suits you. Once you have found a project there is typically a short training session to get you familiar with the user interface and how the data should be analyzed/recorded. Then you are all set to do some science!

I've divided some of the most popular citizen science projects down by category, giving a short description of each. Each icon is linked to take you to the project described. At the end I've linked to a couple of general, easily searchable websites that will help you find the project you want.


This is one of the most popular citizen science fields, and the projects that make up the Zooniverse are the most popular of these projects. There are several projects within the Zooniverse to choose from including:
  • Ice Hunters
    •  Help find the final target of NASA's New Horizons Mission! After passing Pluto (and pending NASA approval of an extended mission, of course) the spacecraft will retarget itself for an encounter with a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO). The target won't be selected until shortly before the Pluto encounter and there will be lots of images to go through to find out where to go next. This is where you come in. Look at pictures of never seen before objects to find out which one we should visit.
  • Moon Zoo
    • Explore the surface of the Moon! Look through images taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and answer questions about what you see. Identify craters, boulders (called "Boulder Wars," LOL), or any interesting or weird features you come across.
  • Galaxy Zoo: Hubble
    •  There are hundreds of thousands of galaxies drawn from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope archive. In this project you get to look at the gorgeous imagery from this telescope and classify the galaxies. Are they elliptical, spiral, irregular? Or is there some new type out there waiting to be discovered?
  • Galaxy Zoo: Supernovae
    •  This project is similar to the project above, this time contributing data from an automatic survey in California, at the world-famous Palomar Observatory. Except here you are looking for supernovae. Exploding stars!
  • Galaxy Zoo: Mergers
    • Here you are looking for the merging of galaxies. From images you select simulations that look similar to the targeted merger, tuning your best matches. You can even decide which simulation wins in a series of tournament-style competitions.
  • Planet Hunters
    • Look for extrasolar planets (planets around other stars)! This project finds planets by identifying how the brightness of a star changes over time.
  • The Milky Way Project
    • This projects aims to sort and measure our galaxy. Using the beautiful infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope you are asked to find and draw bubbles. These bubbles identify the life stages of the stars in our Milky Way Galaxy. 
  • Old Weather
    • This project works to recover worldwide weather observations made by Royal Navy ships around the time of World War I. This will contribute to climate model projections, improve a database of weather extremes, and track past ship movements and the stories of the people on board.
  • Solar Stormwatch
    • Help spot explosions on the Sun and track them across space to Earth! Not only will you help to identify and classify activity on the Sun but you will also contribute to early warnings if dangerous solar radiation is heading toward astronauts. 

These scientists are seeking to understand a star that has been a mystery for many years. This star is epsilon Aurigae, it is located in the constellation Auriga, and it is a variable star (it changes in brightness over time). This change in brightness is called eclipse. It takes over 600 days, and it only occurs every 27.1 years. The project scientists will guide you through the process of how to observe epsilon Aurigae, how to send them your observations, and then how to see your results, analyze them, and even publish them in a scientific journal.

SETI@home is a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data. It is completely safe. All you need to do is download the program and it will run while your computer is on, not disrupting any of your other computing tasks.


This project works to produce predictions of the Earth's climate up to 2100 and to test the accuracy of climate models. To do this, they need people around the world to give them time on their computers - time when they have their computers switched on, but are not using them to their full capacity. What do you do? Not much really. You to run a climate model on your computer. It runs automatically in the background, not affecting any other tasks for which you use your computer. It is completely safe and requires no more of your time than it takes to download the program. Read more by clicking the image link or go to download the program HERE.

Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) works to measure and map precipitation. Each time a rain, hail or snow storm crosses your area, you take measurements of precipitation from as many locations as possible and report it on the website. These data are compiled and used to provide accurate high-quality precipitation data, increasing the density of precipitation data available throughout the country, and encourage citizens to have fun participating in meteorological science while heightening their awareness about weather.

This project aims to accurately record and analyze "ice on" and "ice off" events as well as snow depth, air temperature, and wildlife observations to learn how climate change affects our environment. You will receive instructions on how to properly IceWatch (even if you live in a warmer climate), you pick your location to observe over the winter (like a nearby lake, bay, or river), record your observations, and submit them online.


This project is great for gamers!
Genetic sequences are difficult to understand and decipher their structure, and this project aims to compare them to detect any similar regions they may have. So they have put together a website that abstracts the multiple alignment problem to a game where the goal will be to align words made by pieces of different color instead of letters representing the genetic code (A,C,G,T). You create columns of the same color and create gaps, ultimately finding the best tradeoff between aligning color and creating gaps. You can even choose a puzzle to solve from the disease you want to treat.

Another project that is great for gamers. This project is all about protein folding. Proteins are built from individual amino acids but they don't stay all stretched out in a strand, they fold into very specific shapes. Finding the shapes and the optimal folding is the hard part though and is what this project aims to do. Knowing the structures is important to things like drug development and disease research. The problem has been put into game form. You, as the player, solve a series of puzzles to optimally pack you protein, hide the hydrophobic bits, and clear any clashes. You can play individually or form teams, competing with other protein folders around the world.


The whale shark photo-ID library...its cool just saying it. This project uses photographs of the skin patterning behind the gills of each shark and any scars to distinguish between individual animals. This helps scientists to see where individual animals are going, the abundance of whale sharks, and their distribution. If you see a whale shark while out diving you can report all kinds of information about the encounter by filling out their online form, and you can submit pictures to the library.

Do you love whales? All kinds? This project is working to classify the sounds that whales make into distinct regions. "For example, in Orcas (Killer Whales) there are over 150 identified types of call. Every time you match a pair of Orca calls, you're casting a vote for those two calls to be considered 'similar'." The more this is done the better map the researchers get of calls that are alike. This allows them to identify patterns, groups of whales, and eventually get a better understanding of how whales communicate with each other. All you do is look at a spectrogram and listen to a call and then find a matching call. Simple.

This is a project for reporting jellyfish and other marine organisms. If you have seen jellyfish, red tide, or any other unusual marine life you just go online and fill out their form and submit it. They even have a list of similar projects around the world that you can participate in.

FishWatchers is a project out of the International Game Fish Association. This website allows you to  upload your fish observations and photos through the Internet. Any fish any time. This information will then be used to create current distribution maps to assist in monitoring trends in biodiversity


This is a great project from a Dutch entomologist that lets motorists report the date, time, and location of their latest outing and the number of insects that get hit (and probably smushed) by their vehicle. Not only does it give an idea about how many bugs are killed by vehicles it provides insect presence in certain locations and information about their flight patterns.

This is a network of people across the United States who monitor plants as the seasons change. It is a national field campaign designed to engage the public in the collection of important ecological data based on the timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting of plants (plant phenophases). You can send in regular observations or just a single report. Everything is usefull. They provide good identification keys and other tools you will need to start. Not in the U.S.? I'm sure there is is similar project near you.

This is a U.S. based citizen science project that is a national animal and plant phenology observation program. You find out the plants and animals near you on a provided list, learn to select a site and observe and record what is there, and submit your results.

 eBird is a real-time, online checklist program that reports and accesses information about birds. It provides information on bird abundance and distribution at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. It is amassing one of the largest and fastest growing biodiversity data resources in existence. You enter when, where, and how you went birding, fill out a checklist of all the birds seen and heard during the outing, and submit your observations into the eBird database. They even provide tools so you can maintain your personal bird records and even visualize your personal data with interactive maps, graphs, and bar charts.

Neighborhood Nestwatch is a project out of the Smithsonian National Zoological Park and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. The idea is to find and monitor bird nests so scientists can compare how successful nests are in urban, suburban, and rural areas. All you have to do is keep a watchful eye out throughout the year and report your results.

 I know several people that participate in the Christmas Bird Count each year and have a really great time. From December 14 - January 5 volunteers brave the cold weather to do a little bit of bird counting. Anything from feeder-watching to active birding counts. It provides valuable information on migrating birds, bird abundances and distributions, and much more. There are many groups out there too that participate in the count and would love to have another person to help, regardless of your skillset.

 NestWatch, as you might gather from the name, is a nest-monitoring project. It aims to compile large, continent-wide databases tracking survival and reproductive success of a wide range of species and provide a unified nest-monitoring scheme to track reproductive success for all North American breeding birds. You "get certified" (meaning you learn how to properly observe a nest without jeopardizing the nest), look for active nests, monitor the nests and collect data, and enter the data online. The fact that you get to see baby birds should be a big selling point *wink*

The Backyard Bird Count is similar to the Christmas Bird Count in that it is an annual event that provides a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the North America. The Count occurs from February 17 - February 20 and takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. When you are finished you enter your results on their webpage.

When it comes to doing science, watching the visitors to your bird feeder sure ain't bad. Project FeederWatch is a winter-long project of birds that visit feeders in backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. By counting birds at your feeder you help scientists to broadscale movements of winter-bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance. You count birds at your count site that are there because of something you have provided (plantings, food, or water) and only report the highest number of individuals you see in view at one time, and then you report it online. Simple.


 The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN )is a collaborative initiative for developing the world's largest, low-cost strong-motion seismic network by utilizing sensors in and attached to Internet-connected computers. The QCN obtains information about earthquake waves (seismic waves) by using computers that are connected to the Internet. Many laptop computers have built in sensors and desktop computers can utilize small USB sensors to collect the data. The data from these sensors are collected only when the computer is turned on and idle and is sent over the Internet. It is safe and easy. All you need to do is download the program.

 I used to take my ecology lab students out to cemeteries so we could collect data to make life tables. They were always a little squeemish at first but ended up loving the work. The Gravestone Project aims to map the location of a graveyards around the globe and then use marble gravestones in those graveyards to measure the weathering rate of marble at that location. The weathering rates of gravestones are an indication of changes in the acidity of rainfall between locations and over time and could be used as a measure of changes in climate and pollution levels. You go to your local graveyard and take a few measurements such as the lead lettering or headstone thickness.

The bodyLab is a project that researches the evolution of human body shapes and our ideas of attractiveness. All you have to do is go to the website and rate the silhouettes of women and/or men based on if you find that body shape attractive. It is so easy to do you don't even need to create an account.

The Sound Around You is building a sound map of the world as part of a new study into how sounds in our everyday environment make us feel. All you do is use your mobile phones (or another audio recording device if your phone is not compatible) to record 10-15 second clips from different sound environments, or ‘soundscapes’ from a family car journey to a busy shopping center, and to upload them to the virtual map, along with your opinions of them and why you chose to record it.

Dognition is a site that offers dog owners a series of science-based games that determine their dog's unique abilities and their relative strengths and weaknesses in various thinking skills. These skills range from empathy to cunning to memorization. As a user, you enter the results of your dog's behaviors, contributing to a data set that can be used by researchers studying dog cognition. It also offers the owners a "window into [their] dog's mind, offering a first step on the path toward improved behavior." You can tell how your dog sees the world and how they respond in different situations while at the same time contributing to science. Note: As of now this site/service has a fee.


This is the best website I have found for finding a project that suits you. It has a great search engine and describes the projects very well. It also includes many local projects as well as great projects for kids.

This site is less detailed and contains fewer projects but is still a good source for citizen science.

(top image from

Saturday, September 3, 2011

TreeTop Barbie

Over beers last night we got to talking about great science videos, infographics, etc. And here's something new I discovered:

"You've heard of TreeTop Barbie, right?" a friend/coworker asks.
"What? No." I gasp, in reply.
"You have to look it up, its great! She has a field vest,  measuring tape, field notebook, everything," she informs me.
"That's fantastic! I need to look this up right way," I say, probably more excited than I should be.

When I searched for it I found that it is a Barbie doll that had special field work clothes made for it by Dr. Nalini Nadkarni from the Forest Canopy Lab at The Evergreen State College in Washington. This Barbie decked out in a field vest, cargo pants, hiking boots, helmet, climbing equipment (including a crossbow!), measuring tape, and field notebook. Perfect for getting up into the forest canopy and collecting data!

And here are a few articles about Barbie and her new clothes:

New York Times Article - "Making Science Rock, Roll and Swing From the Treetops"

The Olympian - "Barbie Meets Science"

You can get your own TreeTop Barbie through the International Canopy Network (ICAN) by filling out this form and making a $50 donation.
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