Citizen Science and GIS

“Citizen science is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists, often by crowdsourcing and crowdfunding.”


Applications of geospatial technologies have already proven themselves invaluable for scientific research and understanding. But is there an opportunity for citizen scientists to leverage geospatial technologies in their quest for knowledge and entertainment, and still make valuable contributions to society?

Citizen scientists have a strong interest in some facet of science, but pursue this interest outside of mainstream academic, research, and industrial organizations. These self-directed individuals might very well be using their own resources, working in their garages to develop “the next big thing.” But more often they are networked, working together with fellow citizen scientists. And this is where they become a powerful force to be taken seriously within the scientific community.

Scientists, as well as “professionals doing science,” are often the ones organizing these citizen science networks; they realize the great value a group of eager volunteers can bring to a project. Some examples of harnessing the contributions of citizens in the earth science and geospatial arenas include:

  • (CPDN) is investigating how small changes affect climate models by running hundreds of thousands of climate models using the volunteers’ PCs. The result: a better understanding of how models are affected by the myriad of small changes in parameters known to influence the global climate.
  • Atmospheric Process Simulator@Home (APS@home) is looking at atmospheric components of climate change. Everyday citizens can download and install a model onto their PCs. The model calculates atmospheric dispersion and how it affects the accuracy of estimates used in global climate models. It runs in the background using idle CPU time, so it doesn’t affect normal computing activities.
  • OpenStreetMap is a model for creating a global geospatial data set by citizen volunteers. Organizationally it provides a good example of a successful structure for managing the creation and distribution of the data, as well as maintaining quality standards.

Amassing large numbers of volunteers to work on geospatial problems such as climate change is already taking place as shown by the CPDN and APS@home examples. What is needed next is something at a much larger scale, where not just physical, but also biological, social, cultural, economic, and political data and models are integrated to give a more accurate depiction of the complexities of our planet.

First we need to create an environment that successfully brings together a plethora of data sources and modeling systems—a noble vision for GIS technology, but not something to be tackled by citizen scientists. Once the data and technology is in place, and a clear framework is established, then comes the opportunity to organize a large group of volunteers who would do the work of tackling this challenge.

The challenge for GIS practitioners is to ensure the usability of citizen scientist-created data in a GIS workflow or to turn this crowdsourced data into useful geographic knowledge. This can mean checking the data to make sure it is authoritative; it can also mean getting involved in data collection, structuring the process to ensure that the collected data has meaning and is appropriate and authoritative.

Imagine a framework where tens or even hundreds of thousands of citizen scientists log in to a web site and download geospatial data sets and work task lists, then use a focused geospatial app to run different analysis and modeling scenarios as defined in the task list, and then share the results of their analysis back to the web site for consolidation.

If properly structured and managed, the integration of citizen science and GIS will enrich geospatial infrastructure, giving GIS practitioners new types of data to use, manage, interpret, and incorporate into their work. More importantly, it could significantly advance our understanding of the planet.


OGC Encourages Attendance at AGILE and COBWEB Workshop – “Citizen Science, Quality and Standards”

OGC_Logo_Border_Blue_3DAGILE (Association of Geographic Information Laboratories for Europe) and COBWEB (Citizen OBservatory WEB, an EU FP7 Project) invite public participation in a special workshop on crowdsourced data and the environment.  The AGILE & COBWEB Workshop – “Citizen Science, Quality and Standards” will be held June 3, 2014 in Castellón, Spain in conjunction with the AGILE 2014 conference.

Crowdsourced data (“people as sensors” recording real-time observations and measurements) are a valuable source of scientific and policy-making information when enhanced with an indication of quality and fused with authoritative data. This workshop seeks to engage the scientific community in discussions about the use of quality controlled crowdsourced environmental data.

The infrastructure being developed within COBWEB exploits technological developments in ubiquitous mobile devices. It also exploits and contributes to developments in the operational standards that are used widely in public spatial data infrastructures and also increasingly used in science. COBWEB infrastructure is being designed to enable citizens living within Biosphere Reserves to collect environmental information on a range of parameters including species distribution, flooding and land cover/use. The main driver is the value that can result when citizens participate in environmental governance. It is anticipated that COBWEB work products will be useful in similar activities around the world.

To maximize impact, COBWEB is working with standards organizations. Specifically, COBWEB will aim to improve the usability of OGC Sensor Web Enablement standards and the OGC GeoPackage Encoding Standard with mobile devices, develop widespread acceptance of the data quality approach developed and maximize the applications potential of COBWEB outputs.

Details, agenda and call for brief presentations are available at:

COBWEB organizers:

  • Stephanie Ties, Environment Systems
  • Bart De Lathouwer, OGC Europe (OGCE)
  • Mike Jackson, University of Nottingham, 
  • Lars Bernard, TU Dresden
  • Mason Davis, Welsh Government

About OGC: The OGC® is an international consortium of more than 475 companies, government agencies, research organizations, and universities participating in a consensus process to develop publicly available geospatial standards. OGC standards support interoperable solutions that “geo-enable” the Web, wireless and location-based services, and mainstream IT. Visit the OGC website at

[Source: OGC press release]

Citizen Science Shows Everyday People Can Map the Moon

Dr. Pamela L. Gay, Assistant Research Professor, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville STEM Center.

Dr. Pamela L. Gay, Assistant Research Professor, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville STEM Center.

A team of scientists working with the CosmoQuest virtual research facility ( has demonstrated that it is possible for everyday people to map the Moon with the same quality as a group of experienced professionals.

A team of scientists working with the CosmoQuest virtual research facility ( has demonstrated that it is possible for everyday people to map the Moon with the same quality as a group of experienced professionals.

These crowd-sourced results are being published in the journal Icarus and highlight the ability of citizen scientists to advance planetary research. CosmoQuest is a second-generation citizen science site run out of the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville STEM Center by Assistant Research Professor Dr. Pamela L. Gay.

While “crowdsourcing science” may sound as if they are handing out lab sets and white coats, CosmoQuest has actually done something much more impactful. They handed over the moon.

CosmoQuest’s MoonMappers research portal invites the public to learn about the lunar surface and aid professional researchers in mapping craters and other features on the Moon.

MoonMappers is led by researchers Stuart Robbins of the University of Colorado and Irene Antonenko of the Planetary Institute of Toronto. CosmoQuest community members are the first citizen scientists to demonstrate volunteers can accurately identify planetary surface features.

With over 500 million craters on the moon alone, and new data coming in from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter daily, there is much science to be furthered.

“As early as the 1800s, top researchers, such as Harvard’s Edward Pickering, realized the field of astronomy could advance faster by engaging amateur astronomers in collecting data for professional researchers,” Gay said. “Utilizing the global community of amateur researchers that CosmoQuest has drawn together, research can happen more quickly, more accurately, and more often than ever before.

As shrinking funding reduces the number of professional positions, the need for help is greater than ever before. “CosmoQuest allows passionate volunteers and professional scientists to effectively explore our solar system together and accomplish science that might otherwise never be done,” Gay said.

In a statistical comparison between the results of eight professional crater counters, and MoonMappers’ cadre of amateur counters from around the world, it was shown that the combined results are consistent across both groups even across varied types of craters. This study also showed that the variation in counts between different professionals could be as much as 35 percent, while there was a 1-to-1 relationship between the combined professional counts and the citizen scientist counts.

“The results from the study were very reassuring to us,” said Robbins, the study’s lead author. “Without this first step of verifying the accuracy of volunteer crater counters, there would be no point in continuing the project.
“Our study results mean we can now use the power of crowd-sourcing to gather more data than we ever thought possible before.”

This means willing volunteers can meaningfully contribute to science any time they feel like sitting down and marking a few features. Waiting for the bus? Sitting in the doctor’s office? Or, “Even do it at night while watching television,” is Robbins’ advice to help further humankind’s knowledge of these objects’ history.

While mapping the Moon is a goal unto itself, there is actually a lot of science tied in with mapping all these divots on the lunar surface.

“Throughout our solar system’s existence, a steady stream of objects – asteroids and comets mostly – have rained down on the Earth and our Moon,” Gay stated. “While it may seem these objects are out to kill life on Earth (and they certainly killed the dinosaurs!), they also offer us a chance to understand our history.

“When we see an area of the Moon that is smoother, we know something has erased the craters, but when we see a very cratered region, we know we are seeing an old surface that holds a record of past collisions.”

CosmoQuest is directed by Gay, and is designed to provide the public with an online experience that a professional might have at a research center.

“Put simply, the sky is large, and astronomers need all the help the public can offer!” Gay said.

In addition to hosting MoonMappers and two other citizen science projects, CosmoQuest also offers online classes, provides multiple weekly seminars using Google’s Hangout-on-Air technology, has materials for teachers, and is home to the Virtual Star Party series. This second-generation citizen science site goes from asking people to click through images to asking them to learn what it takes to become an active collaborator.

[Source: PRWEB]

Citizen Scientists Map the Transit of Venus

Esri logoEsri Builds Astronomy Observations Map Application

Working with Astronomers Without Borders, GIS software company Esri has built a Transit of Venus web map application that instantaneously displays data from amateur astronomers. Using a free smartphone application, these citizen scientists from around the world will capture their observations of the transit of Venus in early June and have their timing measurements immediately published on a map on

“The Astronomers Without Borders relationship with Esri is fantastic,” said Mike Simmons, president of the nonprofit organization. “These technologies make it possible for everyone to take part in important astronomical events.”

Smartphone app.

Smartphone app.

The Esri Transit of Venus web map application, running on ArcGIS for Server, will work in coordination with the iPhone and Android Transit of Venus applications. This web application will show the following:

  • Where on earth the transit is visible and at what times
  • Tweets, pictures, and videos about the transit
  • Points of observations from the phone application with recorded and predicted times
  • An animation on what the transit looks like on the sun and which side of earth can view it

On June 5 or 6, 2012, depending on one’s location, Venus will pass between the earth and the sun. Through telescopes, professional and amateur astronomers will see Venus as a small, round dot moving across the sun. Since the eighteenth century, astronomers’ measurements of this rare event have been used to calculate the distance between the earth and the sun.

With thousands of people projected to participate in the 2012 Transit of Venus project, this may well be one of the largest crowd sourced mapping projects to date. The transit recordings will first be sent to the project center in the Netherlands and a few seconds later to Esri in Redlands, California. Anyone can add their impressions of the transit via Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube, and these social media items will be displayed on the Transit of Venus map.

Follow this Transit of Venus project as it’s happening on June 5 at

[Source: Esri press release]

Ocean Basemap Now Accepting Contributions

The Ocean Basemap, a bathymetric map service by Esri released on June 21st of 2011 (World Hydrography Day), is being used by many ocean GIS users around the world; initially, the Ocean Basemap was created with data from the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO), IHO-IOC GEBCO Gazetteer of Undersea Feature Names, NOAA, Seafloor Mapping Lab of the California State University Monterey Bay, National Geographic, DeLorme, and Esri.

Due to its great success and in an attempt to enrich and improve data resolution, the Ocean Basemap  is now open to receive bathymetric data contributions from data providers such as Hydrographic Offices and academia,  for bathymetry and named features. If you want to learn more details please contact

Crowdsourcing, Citizen Sensing and Sensor Web Technologies for Public and Environmental Health Surveillance and Crisis Management: Trends, OGC Standards and Application Examples

International Journal of Health GeographicsInternational Journal of Health Geographics 10:67, Published 21 December 2011

Maged N Kamel Boulos, Bernd Resch, David N Crowley, John G Breslin, Gunho Sohn, Russ Burtner, William A Pike, Eduardo Jezierski and Kuo-Yu Slayer Chuang

“‘Wikification of GIS by the masses’ is a phrase-term first coined by Kamel Boulos in 2005, two years earlier than Goodchild’s term ‘Volunteered Geographic Information’. Six years later (2005-2011), OpenStreetMap and Google Earth (GE) are now full-fledged, crowdsourced ‘Wikipedias of the Earth’ par excellence, with millions of users contributing their own layers to GE, attaching photos, videos, notes and even 3-D (three dimensional) models to locations in GE.

Mobile CO measurements in the city of Copenhagen (December 2009)

Mobile CO measurements in the city of Copenhagen (December 2009)

“From using Twitter in participatory sensing and bicycle-mounted sensors in pervasive environmental sensing, to creating a 100,000-sensor geo-mashup using Semantic Web technology, to the 3-D visualisation of indoor and outdoor surveillance data in real-time and the development of next-generation, collaborative natural user interfaces that will power the spatially-enabled public health and emergency situation rooms of the future, where sensor data and citizen reports can be triaged and acted upon in real-time by distributed teams of professionals, this paper offers a comprehensive state-of-the-art review of the overlapping domains of the Sensor Web, citizen sensing and ‘human-in-the-loop sensing’ in the era of the Mobile and Social Web, and the roles these domains can play in environmental and public health surveillance and crisis/disaster informatics. We provide an in-depth review of the key issues and trends in these areas, the challenges faced when reasoning and making decisions with real-time crowdsourced data (such as issues of information overload, “noise”, misinformation, bias and trust), the core technologies and Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standards involved (Sensor Web Enablement and Open GeoSMS), as well as a few outstanding project implementation examples from around the world. ”

Using Citizen Science and GIS Technology to Connect the Local to the Global

ESRI Education User Conference

Keynote Address

Saturday, 10 July 2010, during the Plenary Session, 8:30 a.m.–noon

Mark Chandler, Ph.D., International Director of Research for Earthwatch Institute

‘People today are challenged with understanding how their decisions impact the local community as well as their impact on populations and places far away. The common axiom “think global, act local” reflects the need to juggle the local context of our actions with the larger global context. This is true in respect to issues such as food supply, energy use, water, biodiversity, and our role in natural disasters. And this concept of scale is important not only because it helps connect our local communities to a greater landscape and ultimately the Earth, but also because it helps direct the scope of the social institutions and efforts that should be involved.

Dr. Chandler will discuss these points and how powerful learning can happen when people are directly engaged in projects that operate at multiple scales—and are connected via tools such as GIS and GPS technologies. See examples of how different audiences can participate in field-based projects involving sustainable landscapes, agriculture, and more. Hear how addressing problems with scientific investigation can stimulate interest and thinking about the connection between the communities people call home and the greater world in which they live.

ESRI’s Education User Conference Puts Critical Thinking on the Map

Keynote Speaker Mark Chandler to Discuss Citizen Science and GIS

ESRI marks its commitment to GIS education with its 10th annual ESRI Education User Conference (EdUC), scheduled for July 10–13, 2010, in San Diego, California. The conference provides the opportunity for the education community to share ideas and experiences and discuss the latest developments in geographic information system (GIS) technology through a series of presentations, panel discussions, and workshops. The conference overlaps the 30th annual ESRI International User Conference, which will be held July 12–16.

One of the hot topics at this year’s education conference is the use of GIS to promote analytic and critical thinking skills. “These are the higher-order problem-solving skills employers say they want in future employees,” says Angela Lee, libraries and museums manager for ESRI industry solutions.

Other key topics include the broader use of GIS for administration purposes in educational institutions, implementing ArcGIS Server in the teaching environment and its impact on educational resource sharing, and making greater use of the resources available on

Michael Gould, ESRI’s director of education for industry solutions, says, “The Education User Conference brings together leaders in GIS education from different sectors and countries to both hear the latest news from the ESRI Education Group regarding future initiatives and strategies and share their own experiences and ideas. It is the premier event for educators who are passionate about employing GIS to help improve education and therefore improve our future.”

Dr. Mark Chandler, international director of research for the Earthwatch Institute, will be this year’s keynote speaker at the conference. He is a prominent conservation biologist with more than 20 years of experience conducting field research in Central and South America, East Africa, and New England. Chandler will discuss Using Citizen Science and GIS Technology to Connect the Local to the Global.

The Earthwatch Institute, a pioneer in citizen science endeavors, is committed to scientific research and environmental education. It is one of the world’s largest private funders of research expeditions and has used ArcGIS for several years to monitor and document the many expeditions it supports throughout the world.

Additional information regarding ESRI’s EdUC is available on the Web at

[Source: ESRI press release]

Enlisting Volunteers Can Boost Confidence in Scientific Research

…from the UC Davis School of Education…

“In an era of public skepticism about science and high-stakes decisions based on it, involving more non-scientists in research projects can boost public acceptance, understanding and the quality of the scientific results, a study co-authored by a UC Davis researcher suggests.

“The study will be presented on Monday, May 3, at the 91st annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Denver.

“For years, the National Science Foundation has encouraged the inclusion of volunteers from the public in the collection of data for scientific research. Through its funding, the NSF has institutionalized such so-called “citizen science.””

(via @disruptivegeo )