Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Measuring April Showers with Creekwatch

They say April showers bring May flowers.  It can also bring lots of rain and rising water waters in streams.  So this seems the perfect time to discuss Creekwatch, a project that tracks the state of creeks and streams in your area. It's also the first "Spring into Citizen Science" project designed for iPhones and iPads.

There are two important parts to this project. The first looks at water levels and tracks the rise and fall of individual creeks, helping scientists understand local rainfall and the potential for soil runoff. The other part tracks general pollution levels and indicates the creeks overall health. So not only does it help ecology researchers but also urban planners and farmers that rely on clean water for their livelihood.

Before going on, I should warn you that while data collection continues the data viewing portion of the web site has been down recently (Update: It's been fixed!).  I'd hoped this would be fixed sooner but didn't want to hold this post any longer.  So just be aware.  Also, I presume an Android-based version of this application is coming but have not been able to confirm anything about that yet.

Getting Started is Easy:
  1. Visit the Creekwatch web site or go directly to the Apple App Store from your iPad or iPhone (IiPhone 3 or later) to learn more about the program.
  2. Dowload the free application and start it up on your phone or iPad.
  3. Fnd a creek to follow and take a picture of it.  This will provide a permanent visual record of the creek on which you will have based your analysis.
  4. Answer the three basic questions about the creek's appearance along with any additional comments:
    • What is the water level (Dry, Some, Full)?
    • What is the creek's flow rate (Still, Slow, Fast)?
    • How much trash appears? (None, Some, A Lot)
  5. If you have any questions about what to look for, just click the question label on each to view examples of each potential answer.  This will help standardize the data and improve data quality, as well as teach you about the creek being investigated.
  6. That's it!  Once the data is submitted click the "Browse" button to see readings in your area of other creeks taken by your fellow citizen scientists and see how your data compares.
The beauty of this project is in it's simplicity and in taking advantage of smartphone technology to ease data collection.  So check it out, and hopefully we'll see your data in their too!

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