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Q&A: "Transitions in Citizen Science with the GLOBE Program during a Global Pandemic: Shifting Gears from Data Collection to Data Literacy"

Extended answers from Marilé Colón Robles (MCR), Dr. Russane Low (RL), and Brian Campbell (BC), panelists from a Showcase during “The Promise and Pitfalls of Citizen Science"

Question: Unfortunately we are a year into the pandemic. What has the response been to your adaptations for at-home observation?
BC: The adaptations for at-home citizen science during the pandemic has been great. We, as NASA and GLOBE have developed many hands-on activities, videos, and resources that keep the knowledge flowing. We thought that we might have a great reduction in the number of NASA GLOBE Observer citizen science observations, but that wasn't the case. We saw a lot of observations, sometimes several thousand per week come in across all 4 NASAGO protocols.
RL: I think our whole team was surprised at the increased interest in citizen science we saw as a whole. Parents and teachers conveyed interest in resources to support informal learning at home, and we stepped up by creating family guides (Clouds and Tree Height),and a  Mosquito Activity Notebook (Mosquito Habitat Mapper) for upper elementary and middle school students.  We also created resources for GLOBE Observer at home. It was rewarding to see people being generous with their time and supporting citizen science, even when many other things were going on during the pandemic-together, we can get through this :-)

Question: Even though you use volunteer labor, I expect there must be a lot of labor behind the scenes at GLOBE to make this happen. How many people are on your team?
RL: This is a great question. NASA is supporting our team work through a cooperative agreement, and funds our science and outreach teams. There is also institutional support for app development and data base management supported by NASA for the GLOBE program. These federal investments in citizen science infrastructure makes it possible to provide participation in observations and research for all. Many of us wear more than one hat, but there are 3 or 4  scientist and education outreach staff members working on each protocol team (clouds, trees, mosquitoes), not including our artist and management team. NASA has put a significant investment into Earth system citizen science.
BC:  So, we  have 20+ people on our NASA Sci Activation Team (NASA Earth Science Education Collaborative), but we have adjunct folks working with us from all corners of the GLOBE, internal and external to NASA and the GLOBE Program.

Question: Who can access the data you collect? Is it freely accessible to scientists?
RL: Anyone can access the GLOBE and NASA data, we are committed the open data paradigm. You can visualize GLOBE data through a map interface in the GLOBE Visualization System, download filtered data using the Advanced Data Access Tool (ADAT) or pull data using an API. You can access these tools here. Citizen scientists have the same access as professional full time scientists. 
MCR: Research-ready datasets are also available here. You can access cloud reports from citizen scientists matched to satellite data, observations collected during the recent solar eclipses, dust event observations, and mosquito habitat mapper data.

Question: Can you talk about "my NASA data" and data literacy cubes?
MCR: The My NASA Data website offers a variety of opportunities to explore Earth Science phenomena of the Atmosphere, Biosphere, Cryosphere, Geosphere, and Hydrosphere using uniquely NASA related content. It contains Mini Lessons with pre-generated graphs and mapped visualizations as well as Lesson Plans, Story maps, STEM career connections, and ties to The GLOBE Program. The Data Literacy Cubes are an interactive way teachers can teach students about reading maps, graphs, and datasets. There are sets aimed for different learning levels (beginners, intermediate, advanced, and English Language Learners) and each side of the cube has a question for groups of students to discover with the data. Find out more here.

Question: Brian, you had an image that mentioned an Urban Heat Island campaign. Could you speak more about this?
BC: The Urban Heat Island Effect - Surface Temperature Field Campaign is a GLOBE Campaign led by Dr. Kevin Czajkowski, GLOBE Partner and professor at the University of Toledo in Ohio. You can find more information on the campaign here

Question: Are there scientific breakthroughs that have come from the data you’ve been collecting over the years?
RL:  I would say that what takes my breath away scientifically would not necessarily be recognized as a breakthrough, but I know of several discoveries made by NASA citizen scientists. It takes a while for our citizen scientist data to be of sufficient scope to make discoveries, but we do have important tasks and challenges to address. For instance, there are two new invasive and potentially dangerous mosquitoes that have just been seen for the first time, one in Florida and one in Cuba. Citizen scientists are poised and ready to find and track these critters, so that they can be located and eradicated before they take hold in the ecosystem.
BC: We have not seen scientific breakthroughs per se, but we do notice that we have developed a ground-breaking way to compare NASAGO observations with space-based observation. Right now, the app allows you to take Cloud observations at the same time satellites are nearby/overhead and you receive a satellite data match with your information and the satellite information. We are working to do this, on the App, for Trees and ICESat-2, Land Cover and MODIS, and Mosquitoes and GPM.
MCR: With clouds, we have found some really surprising results. We were able to test the impact of total cloud cover on the eclipse-induced temperature depression observed during the 2017 North American Total Solar Eclipse. The data has also been used to test climate model validations of worldwide total cloud cover showing a general climate model over estimation of total cloud cover. We've also found unique ways to collect ground observations of marine haze over the Southern Ocean and to report dust storm events around the world.

Question: Do you ever work with artists, writers or musicians?
RL: The answer is yes, and I wish we had the funds to do more. The tapestry I showed in the Mosquito Habitat Mapper talk was created by a digital artist to describe the history of the yellow fever mosquito. Part of the communication of science involves engaging hearts as well as minds, and art media do an amazing job of translating science data and experiences into something we can see and feel. You can take a look of three different artists in our educational resources, and download them here.   
BC: One thing we are proud of with the Trees Around the GLOBE Student Research Campaign is that we like to focus on not just the science of trees, but also the personal and cultural aspects of trees. Also, we have developed several art-related activities on tree and land cover that are part of the Trees Family Guide.

Question: I hope there will be a follow up to this? great info!
BC: We hope so too. In the meantime, please join us for the 2021 Trees Community Challenge.
RL: Thank you! For more information go to the GLOBE Observer website, which is a gateway to all our activities.  You can also learn more about the GLOBE Mission Mosquito campaign here -check out our webinar series (all are recorded).  And if you want more follow up, contact rusty_low@strategies.org, and I will try and find the right person for you.

Question: Great opportunity to link up with environmental and health orgs!
RL: Yes! Thank you and I agree, and if you would like to make introductions to a local community environmental or health group, I would be very excited to follow up, please use this email:  rusty_low@strategies.org


​​​​​​​Question: Have you experienced any challenges working globally? Earlier papers today spoke about how projects might be focused more on individual countries.
RL: Great question! We do not have many issues with working globally, because GLOBE is an international program, offered in 125 countries. There are some countries that do not agree to share data with the United States, which is why there are some countries where citizen scientists are not able to contribute data. The GLOBE Observer app is now used by individual projects in many places. The Mosquito Habitat Mapper was used in a USAID project in Brazil and Peru, and in a Department of State project in 10 countries. The GLOBE Observer team hosts regular webinars and these are attended by people around the world.  
BC: We haven’t really experienced many issues working globally, outside the variations in types of phones being used that might not display the NASAGO App in the right way and the issues with country pandemic lockdowns having an effect on potential data collection. With the phone, there are many cheaply made phones that do not have a built-in magnetometer and therefore cannot measure the angles needed for the tree height observations.

Question: Can you talk about where you work with communities as opposed to just individual citizen scientists? What are the opportunities and challenges?
RL: With respect to Mosquito Habitat Mapper, we have seen that it is more productive to partner with a trusted community organization, who can frame the importance of the work citizen scientists are doing in a local context. In Ethiopia, the problem is a new invasive species that is causing malaria. In Brazil, the local problems have focused on a different mosquito and transmission of pathogens that cause Zika and dengue. Finding a local partner who can continue to message about the importance of citizen science participation is key to long term engagement by citizen scientists. 

​​​​​​​Question: Should we eradicate the yellow fever mosquito again? Like lantern bugs?
RL: You hit the nail on the head here- both globalization as well as shifting climate zones have exacerbated the big problems we face with invasive species. When an invasive species moves into a place where its traditional predators do not live, their populations can explode and dramatically change the ecosystem balance. From an ecological perspective, I'd have no issues eradicating invasives like lantern flies and the yellow fever mosquito. However most of the means of doing so would do equal harm to our natural biota. This is a fundamental challenge and why invasive species are so insidious and damaging to our ecosystems.