Citizen Science in Environmental Applications

EM—November 2019: This issue of EM highlights examples of environmental research studies where citizen science is an important component.

by Prakash Doraiswamy

The involvement of citizens in data collection and evaluation as part of research studies has been gaining traction in the environmental field in recent years. This type of collaborative effort among citizens and professional scientists is referred to as citizen science, community engagement, or community science. Part of the drive for increased citizen involvement includes the availability of accessible tools and increased personal awareness and interest in environmental issues in surrounding areas.

In this issue, we have three articles presenting examples of environmental research studies employing citizen science, and the approaches deployed by those studies. All three articles showcase studies funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as part of their Citizen Science for Earth Systems Program (CSESP), while the first article also includes a study funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In the first article by Karmann Mills et al., the authors describe the case studies from two research efforts—one funded by NASA and the other by EPA—that engage citizens to measure and understand surface-level fine particle (PM2.5) concentrations using low-cost sensors and/or personal exposure monitors. The article summarizes the key lessons learned from these two research efforts and recommendations to improve citizen scientist engagement.

Next, Casey Quinn, Bonne Ford, and John Volckens describe a study that engages citizens in the measurement of PM2.5 and aerosol optical depth using sensors and a mobile application. The article discusses the development of the mobile application and how it simplifies the process of data collection for citizens.

In the final article by Tamlin M. Pavelsky et al., the authors present an interesting study on how citizens help track lake water resources.

All three articles demonstrate how recent developments in sensor technology better enable the involvement of citizen scientists in research efforts.