Projects use citizen science to assess impacts of climate change

One of the striking images captured by photojournalist Carey Marks demonstrating the impact of soil erosion in Tanzania. Credit: Carey Marks/University of Plymouth

Innovative research projects from the University of Plymouth will use citizen science as a means of monitoring the effects of climate change.

Funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the two initiatives will encourage communities in Peru and East Africa to get involved in studies examining the impacts of melting glaciers and soil erosion respectively.

They are among 20 supported by a UKRI programme designed to encourage academics to explore opportunities for building citizen science methodologies into their research.

Led by Lecturer in Physical Geography Dr Caroline Clason with Research Fellow Dr Sally Rangecroft, GlacierMap will use citizen science as a way of mapping glacier change in the Peruvian Andes.

It complements an ongoing initiative, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, which is assessing the impact of climate change on glacier-fed rivers in the South American country.

GlacierMap will enable members of the public to map glacier outlines from satellite imagery across multiple time periods using a free web-based mapping tool. It will help to increase public awareness of mountain glacier retreat, changes to meltwater production, and implications for water, food, and energy security, through experiential learning and interactive glacier mapping.

Specifically targeted at secondary school geography students, it is hoped the project will raise the profile of glaciology in education and increase awareness of the downstream impacts of glacier retreat.

Dr Clason said:

“This project represents a really useful way of getting the data we need at the same time as improving awareness within communities. Glacial retreat has the potential to cause a range of problems in the short and long term, and understanding the threats is key for people living in their shadows. Doing a hands-on task such as this will provide that, and it is especially important for us to work with young people as we can both inspire them and encourage them to get involved now and in the future.”

Read more about Dr Clason's work

Professor of Catchment Science Will Blake and Dr Claire Kelly, Senior Research Fellow in Human Geography, have also received funding for SoilSCAN (Soils, Science and Community ActioN). It will focus on rural communities in East Africa and is being conducted in collaboration with colleagues at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Tanzania.

The project builds on the success of the Jali Ardhi (Care for the Land) project, funded as part of UK Research and Innovation’s Global Challenges Research Fund, which showed communities are facing significant barriers when it comes to implementing soil conservation measures.

For the new initiative, researchers will work directly with communities to develop and trial a citizen science approach that overcomes barriers to crowd-sourcing soil health data.

The aim is to test the potential for using soil scanners as a tool for mapping soil characteristics at a resolution beyond that achievable in conventional research, with the ultimate objective of empowering stakeholders to create a sustainable land-use plan for the community.

Professor Blake said:

“Landscape decisions to conserve and enhance natural capital need to be informed by robust, locally-relevant data. In addition to fulfilling this need, the citizen science approach offers an exciting opportunity to give agro-pastoral communities a stake in mitigation of the soil erosion challenges that affect their everyday lives.”

Find out more about Professor Will Blake

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