Become a Citizen Scientist this Winter

By Eva Lewandowski

As the weather is finally starting to feel like winter, many Minnesotans are looking forward to some outdoor winter fun, while others are curling up indoors and staying warm. Regardless of whether you want to stay inside or venture out into the cold, consider joining a citizen science project and contributing to conservation and our understanding of the environment.

Citizen science is when members of the public become involved in conducting authentic scientific research, and it has a large role in environmental monitoring, meteorology, and studying wildlife and habitat conservation. Many people are familiar with citizen science initiatives like monitoring water quality in local streams or reporting observations of butterflies. But those activities primarily happen during the summer; what can you do to get involved in citizen science right now?


eBird– This is one of the premier birding citizen science project out there, and it can be done anytime and anywhere. eBird allows users to report bird sightings, either as a part of a formalized survey or as an incidental observation. While many people think of birding as a summer activity, there are plenty of great birds to be seen all winter long.

PING– Precipitation Identification Near the Ground uses data from volunteers to add details to weather forecasts and improve the field of meteorology. Run by NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the project has a smartphone app that volunteers can use to quickly and easily upload their data on rain, snowfall, or other precipitation.

CoCoRaHS– This is another great precipitation project, but instead of asking for simple reports of local weather events, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network asks citizen science volunteers to measure the amount of precipitation with a rain gauge or other pieces of simple equipment. CoCoRaHS data are available for everyone to see and use.

Golden Eagle Project– This is a great project based right here in Minnesota! The National Eagle Center and Audubon Minnesota train and coordinate volunteers to survey a population of Golden Eagles that overwinter along the Mississippi River. There are training sessions offered in December and January to orient new volunteers to the project.

Zooniverse– Zooniverse is actually a collection of online citizen science projects, not a single project. Part of the Zooniverse team is based at the University of Minnesota, providing a local connection for this global platform! With Zooniverse projects, you can analyze wildlife photos, characterize vocalizations of bats, and transcribe historical records- all from your own computer.

Citizen Sort and Forgotten Island– Citizen Sort is an example of the popular “gaming” model of citizen science, in which researchers incorporate their science tasks into a game format in order to make it more appealing to online participants. Throughout its three games, players (citizen scientists) classify and analyze images of plants and animals that will be used for actual biological research. My favorite game is Forgotten Island, in which you play an adventurer who crash lands on a remote island and is forced by the island’s robot occupant to sort through nature photographs in order to progress through the game and eventually escape the island.


To find even more great ways to contribute to real research, visit SciStarter. Whether you want to stay indoors or get outside, you will certainly be able to find a citizen science project that’s right for you and your family!


Photo: USFWS


Our Sponsors