5 Ways to Become a Citizen Climate Scientist

Non-professional scientists can contribute to climate change research by participating in one of these five projects.

Protests and rallies can draw attention and show support for political action on climate change, but if you want to get in on the science itself now you can. Non-professional scientists can contribute to climate change research by participating in several different projects that rely on the power of the people.

Crowd-sourcing climate science allows for studies that otherwise would have been too labor intensive and expensive. What's more, the results of citizen scientists have proven to be as accurate as those of career scientists.

"The reaction from the (professional scientific) community is often, 'Do you trust untrained individuals to do accurate work,'" said Scott Stevens of the University of North Carolina at the American Associate for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting on Feb. 15. "History has proven that we should."

Click "Next" above to see five ways you can become a citizen climate scientist.

Stevens helps coordinate the Cyclone Center, a project that asks volunteers to categorize images of storms, such as hurricanes, to determine whether cyclones are becoming more frequent and powerful.

"People often ask if a particular storm, like Superstorm Sandy, is the result of climate change," Stevens told DNews. "One reason they keep asking that question is that we (meteorologists) have a hard time attributing one individual storm's intensity to climate change."

The greenhouse effect has resulted in more heat energy being trapped in the atmosphere. This may cause storms, including cyclones, to become more common and intense.

The Cyclone Center's goal is to provide standardized observations of changes in cyclone's frequency and force over the decades by asking citizen scientists to help categorize the intensity of the storms captured in approximately 300,000 images dating from the 1970s to the present.

Cyclonic Center citizen scientists are presented with two images of the same cyclone from different times and asked to chose which one looks more intense. Advanced users are encouraged to note more details, such as the location of the eye.

When looking for evidence of climate change, meteorologists need to know what the weather was like centuries ago. To do that, scientists need a time machine, said Philip Brohan of the Met Office, the United Kingdom's meteorology office. Brohan's time machine is hidden within millions of pages of old weather records, especially those from ships' logs.

The website Brohan helps run, Old Weather, allows citizen scientists to peruse captain's logs from the 1800's. As readers follow the maritime adventures of sailing ships, they are asked to note the weather information and locations in a form provided by the website.

First time users are given the rank of Cadet on-board the ship they chose to study. After reading and analyzing 30 pages, Old Weather promotes them to Lieutenant. The reader who has put in the most time on each ship is given the honor of Captain.

The Old Weather project now has more than 1.6 million records entered. Those records are beginning to sketch climate maps from when the sun never set on the British Empire.

Climate change impacts more than the weather. Spring is occurring earlier and with the alteration in the season, animals and plants' yearly rhythms are changing.

"The changes are happening," said Mark Schwartz of the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee at the AAAS meeting. "We need some way to tie them into the biological world."

The National Phenology Network, which Schultz directs, brings together observations from citizen scientists about the onset of spring, particularly the dates of the first leaves and flowers of certain plants. The study of these yearly patterns throughout an organism's life is called phenology.

"People ask me if I study bumps on the head," said Schwartz. "I hope by the end of my career more people know what phenology is than phrenology."

To practice phenology at home, citizen scientists can create an account with the National Phenology Network and start logging observations of selected plants. The network also has a smartphone app named "Nature's Notebook," for amateur phenologists on the go.

For citizen climate scientists who like to work in the garden, a volunteer rain gauge network allows participants to fill in the gaps between official weather stations. That can be important, since a distance of less than one mile can mean the difference between a torrential downpour and a drizzle, according to Nolan Doesken of the Colorado Climate Center.

The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is currently made up of 17,000 volunteers in the United States. Participation takes only a minute or two each day.

First volunteers must obtain a standardized rain gauge and place it in their yards. An instructional video on the CoCoRaHS website explains where to place the gauge and how to use it. Once a citizen scientist has downpour data they enter it into the project's website.

Monitoring rainfall patterns helps meteorologists determine how and where the climate is changing.

For those want to contribute to science but don't have time to collect rain or read old ships' logs, the ClimatePrediction.net project run by Oxford University asks only for the use of a person's computer.

The project currently has approximately 40,000 active volunteers' computers crunching the numbers for climate simulations. So far, 127 million years worth of models have been run by the crowd-sourced computations. Repeating models so many times allows climate scientists to check the accuracy of predictions and evaluate the quality of different models.

Computers working on the Climate Prediction project help determine what weather events may be made worse by climate change and which might even be reduced, according to Myles Allen, of Oxford and leader of the Climate Prediction project. What's more, the project itself is better for the environment than using a supercomputer.

"Although the program does cause your computer to use more power," Allen told DNews,"It is more environmentally friendly than a super computer and the air-conditioned warehouse needed to house one... The BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) software we use, developed at the University of California, allows the Climate Prediction program to run without interfering with everyday computer use."