Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Earn Citizen Science Merit Badges with Project NOAH

Welcome to the first week of Fall and the continuing saga of Tuesday's Citizen Science "Tools of the Trade" profiles.  This week we look at Project Noah, another in the line of mobile field guides available for most popular cell phones and tablets.

Project NOAH (Networked Organisms And Habitats) is not a citizen science project in and of itself, instead it is a tool for citizen scientists to store information on any animals they spot and make that data available to researchers regardless of the project.  So users take pictures of specific animals, provide notes on the species along with the habitat they were found in and the geographic location, and upload to the central system.  If you can't identify the species you've spotted you can also ask the citizen science community to help classify it for you.  Once properly classified the system also links to both Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia of Life where you can learn much more about that animal and its habitat.

This data is not just available to individual users.  It also made freely available to other users and independent researchers to work with as they please.  So projects that track certain species or the biodiversity of a certain geographic area can use the information made available to them through the project.  Researchers can also design their own project (such as tracking squirrels in a certain area) and work with the Project NOAH team to create a "Mission" requesting users specifically look for and upload information on any squirrels they spot. 

This emphasis on missions is one area the helps Project NOAH differentiate itself from the many other citizen science tools and projects already out there.  To encourage participation users are awarded "Mission Badges" for completing certain animal spotting goals.  Similar to the badges used by FourSquare and other social networking companies, these can be created for reaching a certain quota of animal spottings, for successfully participating in a mission organized by an independent research team, or by proving a certain number of spottings in a geographic area (or areas).  So you can win awards for submitting data from three different countries, participating in a butterfly sighting program, or uploading pictures of ten different animal species.  The badges can reward almost any activity that the system can track.

Getting Started is Easy:
  • Visit the Project NOAH web site and click on Mobile to access the Android Store or iTunes Store to download the application.  The app is available on the iPhone and adaptable to the iPad, but there is no dedicated iPad app yet.
  • Once installed open the application and sign in by either creating a new account or by logging in through an existing social network account, such as those through Google, Yahoo, Facebook or Twitter.
  • Once logged in, take a long walk and find an animal of interest you wish to record.  Click on the "New Spotting" button and then "Take a New Photo" (you can also take a photo separately and just access it through the application, but let's try it the fun way first).  This will bring up your device's camera mode...just get as close as the animal will let you safely approach and take the picture.
  • Identify the basic type of animal (e.g., mammal, bird, fish, invertebrate, etc) with the spinning wheel and click "Go".  If you have location tagging on, make sure the map shows your correct position and click "Done".
  • You will now see your specimen sheet like the one shown below (a cute rabbit I found in the front yard).  It will have the picture you took in the top corner and categories for notes below.  Add as much information as you know.  If you don't know the species type click on "Help me ID this species" for assistance from your fellow citizen scientists in the Project NOAH community.
  • Click "Submit".  That's all there is to it!  You've created a record for you and everyone else to access.

Photo Courtesy: OpenScientist.org
Of course that's just how you get started.  There are now many more things to do once your first spotting is complete.  Go back to the home page and check out some available missions to participate in.  View the badges you've received.  Or look around the map for other users in your neighborhood and the wildlife they've seen.  But most of all, just have fun with it.

Oh yeah...and let me know about your fun in the comments below too!


    1. I love Project Noah! Its an awesome tool to bring awareness to the animals and planet that live around us! I totally recommend it to any person that is interested in making a positive difference in the world.

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