Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring into Citizen Science with Project Budburst

The start of spring is often marked by the first blooms on your favorite plants. And so we mark the first "Spring into Citizen Science" post with Project Budburst, now in it's fifth year of tracking these markers of warmer weather.

As part of the government-funded National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), Project Budburst asks users to collect information on seasonal changes (called phenophases) of plants in the area they're observing and report to the central website.  You can watch an area for an extended period (such as your backyard), or perform only occasional observations for areas you don't frequently vist (such as during vacation).  By amassing data from users across the country researchers can get a snapshot of the climate as nature feels it and track changes over time that are actually impacting the natural world.

Besides data on budding, local weather, and geography, the project also collects a lot of information on the actual species of plant you are studying.  Extensive nature guides of indigenous grasses, trees, wildflowers, and herbs have been put together for important plant identification purposes; they also provide a wealth of knowledge about the plants you observe.  So not only are there scientific benefits to the projet but fun, educational ones as well.

Personally, I have some wild strawberries and common lilac in my backyard I'm planning to keep an eye on.  Won't you join me?

Getting Started is Easy:
  1. Visit Project Budburst for an overview of the project.  You can also click straight to the Project Budburst: Get Started page and decide whether you are an "Occasional Observer" or are ready to fully commit as a "Budburst Obesrver".
  2. After registering online with the project, download the appropraite 1-page Field Journal for recording your observations.  It will guide you through the weather and location data you need to collect, as well as the phenophase data (remember that one!) being collected as well.
  3. Share your observations through the Project Budburst website.  You only do this manually at the moment though a mobile app for collecting and reporting information is coming soon.
That's all there is to it!  So find a nice shady spot, check the local temperature, and wait for the flowers to bloom.   Have fun!

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