MOUNTAIN LIFE - Ontario | Winter 2016 - page 124

By contributing to citizen science outlets, I canhelpbetter understand the natural world—andhopefully,withunderstanding comes protection.Want toget
involved? If you canobserve, you can contribute.Whether you’re a curious kid inpyjamas staring at the night sky or a skier on a frozen lake, being a citizen scientist
is as fun as it is helpful.
Want topractice it? If you canobserve,
you can contribute
By CarmenKuntz
It’s 3amon a frosty, darkwinter night inMuskoka. I’mnine years old andmother and I are standing in themiddle of the snow-covered road in front of our house,my
red flannel pyjamas tucked into thickwinter boots. Shewokeme upminutes ago,whispering,“Carmen, the northern lights are out.”Staringup at the sky in silence,
we’re dazzled and enchantedby the green andwhite light splashing across the starry sky.
Mymom—a geographer, fieldnaturalist and freelancewriter—taughtme tohow toobserve.My sisters and I grewup attuned tonature andwatching for changes
in the sky, plants and animals aroundus. Likemini-scientists,wewere creatingour owndatabases inour head.Now,with the accessibility and scope of the internet,
observers and“mini-scientists”all over Canada and theworld contribute to research anddata collectionby reporting their findings—things as simple as bird
sightings, frog calls and snowmelt—tohelpbetter understandour changing environment.Often called citizen science, this formof global community involvement is
transforming conservation-mindedobservers into scientists.
Nowwhen I look up at, look downonor listen tomy environment,my observations canbe recorded, classified, compiled andused for scientific research and
conservation. I become a scientist.
If online resources likeAuroasauruswere available
when I was a kid, I would’ve been all over it.
Auroasaurus allows participants to track and
document the northern lights. It’s an interactive
worldmap that links to locations, photos and
tweets of northern lights sightings. Satellite-fed,
this site offers tools topredictwhen andwhere
youmight catchnature’smagic light show.Ablog
connects youwith scientistswho specialize in
the field aswell as videos and infoon the science
behind the lights.
When the coldweather hits, it expands our outdoor
playgroundby turning the liquidworld into a solid
one.Growingupnear LakeMuskoka,walking,
skiing and skatingon frozenwaterwas a treat.
But itmeantwe had to keep track of theweather
and ice depth.My familywouldmake friendly bets
onwhat day the icewouldgoout in the spring.
Today, citizen sciencewebsites like IceWatch
combine scientific observationwithoutdoor
recreation. Becomingan“active activist”means
watchingwhen the ice appears anddisappears and
reporting your findings online.This informationgives
NatureWatch, aCanadianorganization teamedup
withEnvironment Canada, valuable information that
helps researchers track climate and environmental
changes.Using information fromacross the country,
scientistsmonitor climatepatterns.
Skiingdown a snow-covered forest trail, everything
feels sharper. Snowmasks the loud crunchof leaves
and twigs and the forest seems calmer.With the sun
down andheadlampon, senses are heightened, and
wemust rely on sound tomake up for less sight.
It’s the perfect time tohear anowl.TheOntario
Nocturnal Owl Survey is amore structured volunteer
group,where citizen scientistswho aren’t afraid
of the dark use their ears toobserve a seldom-
seenbird. InpartnershipwithBird Studies Canada
and theOntarioMinistry of Natural Resources,
volunteers listen for great grey, barred, boreal
andnorthern saw-whet owls.Dedicatedbirders
travel pre-determined routes gathering audible
information tomonitor owl populations.They also
identify howowls are affectedby loggingpractices.
Auroraborealis over northernOntario.CONORMIHELLPHOTO.
whispering: “Carmen, the
northern lightsareout.”
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