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New citizen science tools database to discover and access the right instruments




Citizen science (public participation in scientific research) often calls for tools you won’t find lying around the house, such as a rain gauge to record precipitation or an air quality sensor.

Pictures of tools.

Examples of tools used by citizen scientists.

“I think a database of water quality monitoring tools is something that anyone who samples recreational water quality dreams of: the idea of a one-stop-shop for such information would be incredibly helpful and save a lot of time for the people and volunteers that run water quality monitoring programs,” Colleen Henn said. She’s the clean water coordinator forSurfrider, a nonprofit that works to protect oceans and beaches and conducts local water testing, and she is not involved in developing the database.

SciStarter hosts many volunteer water-monitoring projects; along with Surfrider, you’ll find IDAH2O Master Water Stewards, the Missouri Stream Team, and Coastkeeper, among others. This makes SciStarter an apt home and hub for a comprehensive tools resource.

Creating such a one-stop-shop is no easy undertaking, but it’s a worthy one, according to Erica Prange, the coordinator for SciStarter’s emerging database. She said that “acquiring the right tools for the job can often be a barrier to citizen science.”

For this reason, she and her colleagues are making the database as accessible and practical as possible. Recently, Prange has spent her time talking with scientists who have provided an “expert’s view of how the tools in their respective fields are frequently used.”  She said that, along with guidance and reviews on intended uses, the database informs on how to “build, borrow, or buy each item, offering many ways to get the equipment needed.”

Who can the database help?

The database serves three main audiences: scientists, citizen scientists, and tool manufacturers. Scientists and project leaders can use this resource to find low-cost sensors and tools to power their projects. Participants find the tools recommended by the project leaders. And manufacturers and Makers have a place to make their tools discoverable to those who are looking for them. “Those with experience using or designing the equipment can post the tools they use and recommend, as well,” Prange said.

Julie Vastine of Dickinson College is the director of the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM), which works to empower people through science to “participate in decision making about water resources in their local community.” She has been working with Prange and others to advise on the development of the database. Vastine pointed out that the database can show how tools “hold up in the environment,” which can be useful to both the science community and to manufacturers.

“Taking [equipment] from that lab and applying it to your actual stream sometimes results in glitches and challenges, and so this is an opportunity for manufacturers to see that,” she said.

“Makers and manufacturers may even be able to use the tools database to spot an equipment need, design a solution, and post their product for others to buy, borrow, or build themselves,” Prange said.

Last but certainly not least, this resource is for the citizen scientists. Vastine explained that it could be very helpful for those citizen scientists who may be isolated or lack a local service provider like ALLARM. “For people who don’t have access to technical support, you now have a database. You can say, ‘I’m interested in this, and these are the finances I have,’ and take a look at what’s available.”

As the database grows, its resources and attributes become richer. For example, it includes links to third-party evaluations. Arizona State University evaluated five low-cost air quality sensors, and those evaluations are linked to each sensor’s record. Vastine and her team evaluated dozens of water quality kits, and those evaluations are linked, as well. The tools are also relational and linked to SciStarter citizen science projects, and vice versa.

Program Director of the University of Rhode Island Watershed Watch, Elizabeth Herron, who is not working on the database, said sharing resources and feedback is important within the citizen science community. She told us, “[We] should be connected and sharing resources! There is no reason we should be re-inventing the wheel. We should build from the experiences of others to be more efficient and effective… We need a common language, but it needs to be complete.”

Developing a Common Language Across Disciplines

One of the most exciting and challenging undertakings of this project has been to create a common language between citizen science disciplines. This was necessary in order to develop a set of shared categories, fields, and search parameters for the database and to organize the instruments online in an accessible way.

Prange explained how the database team is navigating this complex terrain. “The tools database team has been working with experts in the air quality, water quality, and soil quality fields to further define the structure of the database fields in a way that is multidisciplinary… We’ve listened to the needs of our audiences of citizen scientists, project managers, makers and lenders. We’ve also received feedback from workshops and user testing. We’ve gone through multiple rounds of edits.”

Vastine said that working on a shared language for the database “kind of forced everyone to say, ‘Oh, we’re so rooted in our own esoteric terms,’ and to listen across disciplines.” As someone working with water, she personally enjoyed learning about the chemistry, techniques, and terminology used in air and soil testing.

“To create a language and be able to find those terms that transcend our different disciplines enables us to strengthen the movement,” said Vastine. “We’ll all be able to talk a similar talk, and it helps to break down the barriers of our silos.”

Prange and Vastine will be presenting a symposium at the Citizen Science Association Conference in March (CSA 2019) to “introduce participants to the context of the tools database, areas of challenge and growth, and the process for establishing a common, accessible language.” It’s called “Creating a common vernacular: Exploring conversations across citizen science sectors to accelerate discovery of and access to citizen science instruments.”

Participants will learn about cross-sector science collaboration and about how to add tools to the database so they are relational to citizen science projects and events.

Vastine, Prange, and the rest of the tools database team will continue to build out and refine this multifaceted resource. “We’re off to a great start and I’m happy with the latest version of the tools database. However, I bet our mission of ‘listening and learning’ will continue as we get more user feedback from the latest update!” Prange said.

Vastine effectively summarized how this database-in-development can serve people participating in citizen science: “It takes the guessing game out of selecting tools.”

We invite you to check out the beta version of the Tools Database, and to add or find tools. We greatly appreciate your feedback. Please email for more information.

Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!

Travers_imgAbout the Author

Julia Travers

Julia Travers writes about science, tech, art and creative responses to adversity. Her work can be found with NPR, APR and Earth Island Journal, among other publications. Find her on Twitter @traversjul.


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Yukon and Northern BC First Nations tackle climate change using Indigenous knowledge and science




YUKON, June 18, 2021 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is working together in partnership with Indigenous and Northern communities in finding solutions to adapt to the impacts of climate change in the North.

Today, Minister of Northern Affairs, Daniel Vandal, along with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency), Larry Bagnell, highlighted progress on three unique, Indigenous-led projects that are helping communities in Yukon and Northern British Columbia adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

The Minister and Parliamentary Secretary met virtually with Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) to learn about their community-led climate change monitoring program. C/TFN has partnered with Tsay Keh Dene Nation (TKDN) and Chu Cho Environmental of Prince George, British Columbia, to build a community-led monitoring project that examines environmental data and Indigenous knowledge to create a holistic picture of how the climate is changing across C/TFN and TKDN traditional territories. The project combines tracking of current and historical climate trends with knowledge shared by Elders while also providing opportunities for youth mentorship and climate change awareness.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) is also leading a unique project to assess the impacts of climate change within their traditional territory. Climate change is causing many of the culturally significant ice patches to melt, exposing organic artifacts to oxygen and leading to rapid deterioration. The TRTFN ice patch mapping project will involve performing archaeological assessments to prevent the degradation of artifacts. Research will be guided by traditional knowledge, Elders and oral histories, when available, and heavily involve community, Elders, youth and Knowledge Keepers.

The Pelly Crossing Selkirk Development Corporation is leading the Selkirk Wind Resource Assessment project through the installation of a Sonic Detection and Ranging (SODAR) system. The initiative includes a feasibility study leading up to the construction of a renewable energy facility, including wind, solar and battery energy storage. Expanding clean energy within the region will have direct benefits for communities, including reduced reliance on diesel, job creation and revenue generation for Selkirk First Nation. 

These projects are delivering important environmental, social and economic benefits that lead to healthier, more sustainable and resilient communities across Yukon and Northern British Columbia. They also build community clean energy capacity and help to avoid the impacts of climate change.

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Atlantic Provinces Ready For Aquaculture Growth




Aquaculture is an important economic driver for rural, coastal and Indigenous communities, and Atlantic Canada is well positioned to increase aquaculture production as global demand for sustainably sourced seafood grows.

That is why the ministers responsible for aquaculture in the Atlantic provinces have agreed to the ongoing development and management of their industries based on common principles. A new memorandum of understanding has been signed by the four ministers, which extends the previous agreement signed in 2008.

“In a time when food security is especially important, it is good to see our aquaculture industry has grown steadily and is poised for continued growth in 2021 based on environmentally responsible, science-based policies and practices,” said Keith Colwell, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture for Nova Scotia. “Our Atlantic partnership continues to help the industry grow sustainably.”

Cooperation between the provinces and the aquaculture industry has led to improvements in pest management, environmentally sustainable aquaculture methods, aquatic animal health and policies to support the shared use of marine and freshwater resources. It also aims to align regulation and policy between the provinces to make the regulatory requirements easier to understand by industry and the public.

Each province has a comprehensive and robust legislative and regulatory framework to ensure environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and public accountability. The provinces update their legislation and regulations regularly. Nova Scotia revamped its regulatory framework in 2015; New Brunswick received Royal Assent for a new Aquaculture Act in 2019 and is working on the supporting regulations; Newfoundland and Labrador completely revised its aquaculture policy in 2019; and Prince Edward Island has recently drafted a new Aquaculture Act.

The ministers have agreed to continue to use science-based evidence for management decisions, thereby increasing public and investor confidence in the Atlantic Canadian aquaculture industry.

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COMING SOON: A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0




We all want the same thing: a clean and responsible energy future for our children and future generations while continuing to enjoy a high standard of living.

On December 11, 2020, the Prime Minister announced a new climate plan which he claimed will help achieve Canada’s economic and environmental goals.

The proposed plan by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) entitled “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy” will have an initial investment of $15 billion of taxpayer’s money. It is built on 5 pillars of action:

  1) Making the Places Canadians Live and Gather More Affordable by Cutting Energy Waste

2) Making Clean, Affordable Transportation and Power Available in Every Community

3) Continuing to Ensure Pollution isn’t Free and Households Get More Money Back

4) Building Canada’s Clean Industrial Advantage

5) Embracing the Power of Nature to Support Healthier Families and More Resilient Communities  

In my paper, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0” I will objectively critique each pillar in the government’s new climate plan and provide alternative solutions to the same issues.

  This is an alternative plan that supports workers, protects lower income earners and creates economic growth while respecting the environment and focusing on the dignity of work.

  This plan abandons virtue-signaling projects and relies on Canadian ingenuity to build our economy and restore Canada’s role of responsible leadership in the world.

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