"Citizen science" can be broadly defined as science undertaken by non-scientists. According to internet lore, the term was coined by Rick Bonney at the Cornell Ornithology Lab when writing a National Science Foundation proposal.initiatives that engage 'ordinary' people, including children, in the process of scientific investigation, assessment, and monitoring. These and similar projects leverage the breadth and expertise of non-scientists to help with large projects, typically to help the pros resolve a perplexing problem that requires a geographically distributed network of sensors, dispersed data collection protocols (dispersed in either space or time), or computing power.
I've been leading what I'll call "citizen science" workshops at Whitegrass Ski Touring Center in Canaan Valley West Virginia for the past decade or so. Whitegrass uses the USFWS-managed Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge for some of its trail system, thus is required to provide natural history and/or scientific education and outreach workshops as part of their special use permit. My recent sessions have focused on GPS for mapping the landscape, and I've had a very rewarding experience 'training' people of various backgrounds in the use of GPS technology to map a wide variety of resources and features that exist at Whitegrass and on the Refuge. These include hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), now threatened by the exotic invasive Hemlock Wolly Adelgid, and red spruce (Picea rubens). Both spruce and hemlock have seen extensive reductions in their former distribution due to early 20th century logging and fires, and both of which are great for slowing runoff due to heavy precip and snow-melt, reducing flooding. Other features of interest include watershed boundaries (challenging to map in Canaan Valley), springs and seeps (areas for amphibian restoration projects), trails, and other scientific and cultural features.
This past weekend I had 10 'attendees', despite the poor weather and lack of snow (we usually either ski or snowshoe around the area, gathering waypoints, mapping boundaries, etc.). Several were Brooks Bird Club volunteers, genuine citizen scientists (the Audubon Society has been doing similar citizen science work for 100 years). They were interested in mapping bird locations that they contribute annually to the breeding bird survey on the refuge and around WV. Others were interesting in mapping trails that they'd found on their cross-country hikes. One young man, Andre, a student at a local elementary school, had been learning about latitude and longitude, and wanted to do some actual hands-on mapping to reinforce his text book lessons. There's nothing like a hands-on experience to reinforce and strengthen understanding of what might otherwise be a fuzzy concept.
As most of you know, passing on basic knowledge is a very rewarding experience. Doing so to those who will be using their new knowledge to benefit society is even more rewarding. It is great to see that citizens and scientists share so much in common, and that we can learn from each other so easily and effortlessly.
Thanks to Todd Ensign, Director of the Educator Resource Center at the the NASA IV &V Facility in Fairmont, WV, for the GPS units. Todd is a citizen scientist trainer of the highest caliber.