Crowdsourcing with the USGS

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The U.S. Geological Survey is putting out a call for citizen scientists (that means you) to help them track and gather geographic information on what is happening all around the globe. More specifically, the USGS is looking for input about such natural phenomena as earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions as well as first-hand data about seasonal changes and manmade structures in your area. The USGS hopes to accomplish this and incorporate this information into their databases through the use of different social media and online tools that amateur scientists, or citizen scientists, can use.

The overall goal behind these projects for the USGS is to recruit people around their world to record real-time information about what is happening in their own neck of the woods. The USGS cannot have a presence everywhere on the globe in order to get firsthand accounts of geological event. However, they are hope that people will do the reporting for them and then upload their data via social media or online websites. With over two billion people in the world who have access to the Internet, our society is becoming more interconnected than ever. The USGS hopes to take advantage of those opportunities so that scientists and citizen scientists can increase their knowledge about the world.

Furthermore, this scientific information from citizen scientists will actually be assembled and distributed so that it will be put to good use and accessible to all, including in the form of GIS data. People will be able to access online systems that map out reports and data from others who experienced that event. For example, back in May of 2012, a significant earthquake with a magnitude of 6.0 shook northern Italy. Without minutes, people around the epicenter were tweeting about the earthquake using the word terremoto, or earthquake in Italian.  These tweets were then collected and mapped out by the USGS Tweet Earthquake Dispatch (TED).

In order to collect this information from ordinary citizens around the globe, the USGS has implemented several different web-based systems that people can connect with. Here are the some of the most well-known:

Did You Feel It?

Did You Feel It? (DYFI?) is an online tool that the public can use in order to provide first-hand accounts of their experiences during an earthquake. Users of the site are able to not only detail the level of shaking in their local area but also find out what the earthquake felt like in other areas too. The USGS uses this information to combine the results by zip code in the United States and by city in the rest of the world. So far, DYFI? is one of the most successful and longest running systems developed by the USGS. Since its beginning in 2007, Did You Feel It? has collected more than 2.7 million responses from people all over the globe.

There are many examples of the influence and importance of systems like Do You Feel It? In 2008, an earthquake devastated Sichuan province in China. The initial reports of that earthquake came from ordinary citizens outside of the impact zone, and people spread vital information through Twitter and other social networking tools. Likewise, when a 5.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Virginia in August of 2011, a large part of the preliminary information came from reports on Do You Feel It? with over 148,000 people using the system to relay their experience. This was crucial since only a small number of seismometers documented the earthquake.

The Tweet Earthquake Dispatch

The Tweet Earthquake Dispatch (TED) was designed by the USGS in order to enhance the detection of earthquakes, especially in areas where there are no or few seismometers. The use of the social media platform Twitter means that the USGS can quickly get information on possible earthquakes even before sensors and other instruments pick them up. This process works both ways. On one hand, TED signals a possible earthquake when a large amount of tweets mention the word “earthquake” or its counterpart in other languages. Scientists at the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) are alerted to this activity and confirm earthquakes through instrumentation. The USGS then sends out tweets through its Twitter feed @USGSted about earthquakes if they are a magnitude 5.5 or higher.

Map of tweets containing the word “terremoto” (Italian for “earthquake”) collected in the two minutes following a magnitude 6.0 earthquake in Northern Italy on May 5, 2012. The red star shows the location of the earthquake. The tweets are concentrated in the epicentral area but discussion of the earthquake has already spread beyond the impacted region. This shows the speed that USGS Tweet Earthquake Dispatch (TED) collects tweets to provide insight into potential earthquake events. Image Credit: USGS

Map of tweets containing the word “terremoto” (Italian for “earthquake”) collected in the two minutes following a magnitude 6.0 earthquake in Northern Italy on May 5, 2012. The red star shows the location of the earthquake. The tweets are concentrated in the epicentral area but discussion of the earthquake has already spread beyond the impacted region. This shows the speed that USGS Tweet Earthquake Dispatch (TED) collects tweets to provide insight into potential earthquake events. Image Credit: USGS

Did You See It?

Did You See It? is similar to the USGS program Did You Feel It? except that it relates to landslides. Through the program, the public can relate first-hand accounts and upload photographs of landslides. Landslides cost the U.S. up to $2 billion every year in damages, and the USGS hopes that the program will improve their understanding of how to protect human lives and property from the devastation caused by these events.

Is Ash Falling?

This system from the USGS collects information about volcanic eruptions. The program is geared specifically towards people who live in Alaska, because the state has a large number of active volcanoes that average about two eruptions each year.  Is Ash Falling? was created by the Alaskan Volcano Observatory (AVO) in order to allow people to detail observations about volcanic ash, but they can also collect ash samples and send them in. With this input, the AVO can better track the movements of ash clouds and enhance their interpretations of imagery from satellites. Scientists can then give improved warnings and statements about ash fallout and pass along the information to the National Weather Service.

The National Map

Through The National Map, a geospatial conceptual framework, citizen scientists can give detailed information about buildings and other manmade structures. Some of these include things like police stations, post offices, schools, and hospitals. In order to encourage this, participants can earn badges based on how much they contribute.  The GIS data created through this effort called the ) Volunteered Geographic Information project  and is available currently in 35 states.

Nature’s Notebook

Nature’s Notebook, a program run by the USA National Phenology Network, gives people the opportunity to become citizen scientists through getting up close and personal with the Earth. Participants collect their observations on all sorts of things like seasonal changes, animal migrations, the timing of frosts and freezes, and agriculture. Through the program, scientists can get a better understanding of issues like climate change and the introduction and spread of pests and disease.

More more information visit: Scientists Need Your Eyes and Ears


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