Advancing knowledge through citizen science

Citizen science is an expanding field referring to public involvement in scientific research or monitoring with professional scientists. The public involvement may include anything from aiding in  data collection, to all aspects of a project (co-created) – from project design analysis and sharing of results. Citizen involvement in the scientific process is beneficial because it can increase scientific understanding, allow people to contribute to research on topics that interest them, create trusted results, fill data gaps and address local information needs and environmental concerns.

Albertans are helping advance this field of practice in our province. Through involvement in air and water monitoring initiatives to biodiversity programs looking at invasive species, pronghorns and bees, Albertans are supporting efforts in monitoring the environment and building resilient ecosystems.

Alberta Environment and Parks and the Miistakis Institute recently co-hosted a workshop titled: ‘Advancing Citizen Science in Alberta: Changing Perspectives, Breaking Barriers.’ The event explored best practices in the field of citizen science and identified priority actions to advance the field in Alberta. It also provided an opportunity for knowledge exchange and co-learning between citizen science experts, practitioners, resource managers and community members.

Alberta Environment and Parks’ Chief Scientist Dr. Fred Wrona remarked, “citizen

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Dr. Lea Shanley (South Big Data Innovation Hub), Chief Scientist Dr. Fred Wrona (Alberta Environment & Parks), Jade Lauren Cawthray-Syms (University of Dundee), and Dr. Jennifer Shirk (Citizen Science Association).

science offers a unique approach to advance a generation of knowledge” and build public trust. A number of challenges and barriers need to be overcome, however, including perceptions around credibility and relevance of citizen science data and connecting this data with decision-makers.

“Be water on stone – wear it down or move around it” was one piece of advice shared by Lea Shanley, a passionate workshop panellist from South Big Data Innovation Hub. The workshop focused on overcoming barriers and growing the field of citizen science in Alberta.

Limitations to citizen science need to be considered and understood to ensure programs generate credible data and information. While more work is required to understand the role and utility of citizen science in Alberta, the workshop highlighted that engaged and trained citizen scientists can make meaningful contributions to science and monitoring programs by following recognized monitoring protocols and accredited data standards.

What’s next?

Working with the Miistakis Institute, Alberta Environment and Parks is developing principles and strategies to guide good practice and appropriate application of citizen science as part of the provincial environmental monitoring and science program.

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Working session on citizen science in Alberta.

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Science guides policies and actions in Alberta’s Eastern Slopes

When Albertans think about the Rocky Mountains, we inherently think of the wild, rugged mountain landscape that always leaves us wanting more. Hiking those rigid mountain peaks, jumping into those cold glacial lakes, and waking up to fresh mountain air are some of the greatest pleasures Alberta’s Rocky Mountains offer visitors and residents alike.

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Alberta Parks: Castle Area

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Women in Science – Part of the Sis-STEM – Dr. Cynthia McClain

In honour of International Day for Women and Girls in Science on February 11, our Chief Scientist Dr. Fred Wrona invited women from across the department to talk about their work and share their experiences as scientists. This is the third and final interview celebrating the fabulous females in this field – for now!

Dr. Cynthia McClain is a hydrogeologist with the Alberta Environment and Parks.

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Women in Science – Part of the Sis-STEM – Shoma Tanzeeba

In honour of International Day for Women and Girls in Science on February 11, our Chief Scientist Dr. Fred Wrona invited women from across the department to talk about their work and share their experiences as scientists. This is the second of three interviews celebrating the fabulous females in this field.

Shoma Tanzeeba is a hydrologist working in Alberta’s South Saskatchewan Region.Shoma5
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Women in Science – Part of the Sis-STEM – Tanya Rushcall

Bright and passionate individuals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are working to answer society’s most difficult questions and find solutions to our biggest challenges. The innovation, creativity and competitive advantage that comes with having a diverse workforce is more important than ever, yet women remain underrepresented in STEM.

In honour of International Day for Women and Girls in Science on February 11, our Chief Scientist Dr. Fred Wrona invited women from across the department to talk about their work and share their experiences as scientists. This is the first of three interviews celebrating the fabulous females in this field.

Meet Tanya Rushcall! An aquatic invasive species biologist with Alberta Environment and Parks.Tanya1 Continue reading

Join the 30-day challenge to MOVE with the air in mind

We all have to move to get to work and wherever we recreate. Why not move in ways that improve health, promote safety, save money and maintain air quality?

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Starting June 7, Albertans are encouraged to move with the air in mind once a day for 30 days. It could be as simple as walking to the library and borrowing a book on air or reducing idling time by parking and going inside instead of using a drive-thru. When these daily activities become habits and lots of people do them, everyone benefits. You can move on your own or with your family, coworkers, friends or teammates on your way to work, play, home or on a road trip.

Move yourself using human-powered transportation.

Move smart using fuel efficient practices when driving.

Check back daily or follow us on Twitter. We will be adding challenges each day for the next 30 days!


July 6 – Challenge #30

Mend your fuelish ways!

Keep your speed as steady as possible and avoid unnecessary fuel consumption and safety risks.
http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/efficiency/transportation/cars-light-trucks/fuel-efficient-driving-techniques/7507

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Finding your flow with the new and improved Alberta Rivers App

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The Alberta Rivers mobile app provides detailed information on river flows, river and lake levels, precipitation, snowpack and ice conditions across the province.

Information on current and future conditions helps Albertans make decisions related to water supply, flood mitigation, and emergency response planning.

So what’s new?

The app was recently upgraded to provide information on low flow conditions and water shortage advisories. This is so that water users can make informed decisions around water withdrawal if there are potential shortages.

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FISHES in the Sky

helicopter photo 2We aren’t talking trout with wings – FISHES is a team dedicated to keeping fish in our future. The Southern Alberta Fisheries Habitat Enhancement and Sustainability (FISHES) Program was established in 2013 to find and address risks to the aquatic environment following the 2013 and 2014 floods.

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Alberta’s river forecasting info in the palm of your hand? There’s an app for that.

At last month’s flood mitigation symposium in Calgary, we announced a new river information tool that made quite the splash. It’s our Alberta Rivers app – download it for Android here,or check out its features:

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Get the most current advisory info in real time

The app’s main screen will give you a map of the province, broken into its major river basins. Any advisories in effect will be shown on the map itself, as well as at the bottom of the screen.

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You’ll also be able to see the Forecaster’s Comments, which give some insight into how we’re interpreting the current data. And because the app will be updated several times every hour, you’ll know that you always have the most recent information available.

Get notifications sent directly to your homescreen

Want updates without having the app open 24/7? No problem. The app will automatically send ‘push’ notifications for advisories and forecaster comments directly to your phone’s homescreen.

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View river forecast data from anywhere in the province

If you’re interested in the data behind our advisories, we’ve got you covered. You can use the app to view the major types of data that influence river forecasting: snow, rainfall, and water levels. Specifically, you can:

  • View only one of these types of data at a time, a combination, or all three together;
  • Choose between viewing data for the whole province and zooming in on a particular station;
  • View the most current data for that station – or compare it with graphs showing weekly and yearly measurements; and
  • Add stations to your ‘MyStations’ favourites list, so you can access  as soon as the app is launched, without wading through other data

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Get it free for Android – Apple coming soon

Sound good? The app is available as a free download for Android – get it here. An iOS version for iPhone and iPad is on its way – it will be available in June.

Does snowpack predict flooding? The answer might surprise you.

Sometimes spring comes early, and sometimes it’s late – but one thing is always true: it’s wet. Depending on the amount of spring melt we have to contend with and where you live in the province, you might have to slosh your way through melting snow and ice for weeks.

This is the time at which many Albertans become concerned about the risk of summer flooding in their communities, particularly if the winter has been particularly long and snowy. It’s important to remember that in southern Alberta, mountain snowpack is not a major cause of flooding. It plays a part – as do existing water levels and the condition of the soil – but the biggest factor determining summer flood risk is rainfall – how much we get, how much falls in short periods, and where in the province it falls.

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Rainfall is the biggest contributing factor to summer flooding. Photo credit: Tom Stefanac

But even though it’s not the main cause of flooding, snowpack can impact  how severe the flood can be . As you can probably guess, runoff from melting snow contributes to rising water levels. But snowpack can also prevent the rain water from being absorbed by the ground – which can also contribute to flooding.

Because of these factors, our river forecasters have to take snowpack into account when they make their predictions (check out this blog post to learn more about how that’s done). To do this, they have to look at two different types of snowpack – mountain and plains.

Location, location, location

Mountain snow and plains snow behave in different ways. Snow on the plains melts quickly in the spring and disappears rapidly. As it melts, it may cause temporary ‘ponds’ to form or cause minor flooding of small streams. But this melting doesn’t usually have a big impact on larger rivers – which are the source of most major flooding.

In contrast, mountain snowpack typically melts at a slower pace, and keeps melting well into the summer. This is for one simple reason: it’s generally much colder up there than it is down on the plains. As a result of this slow melting, mountain snowpack’s not usually a primary cause of flooding.

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We measure snowpack by hand wherever we can – which can mean trekking into some pretty remote areas.

Because plains and mountain snowpack are different, it’s important for us to monitor snowpack throughout the province – even in places that are really remote. A lot of data comes to us electronically, from monitoring stations that monitor snow conditions and send their data to us via satellite. But snow surveying by hand often gives us a better estimate, just because it gives us the ability to measure more spots in a given area. All of Alberta’s plains snowpack information – and as much of the mountain snowpack information as possible – is gathered by hand.

Using the data – and keeping up with the results

Once we’ve got the data, it becomes one of many variables river forecasters use to assess potential flood risk. You can see some of the maps and data used by the forecasters here. (There’s different data for river basins,mountain and plains snowpack, and precipitation levels in different parts of the province)

Based on analysis of this data, our river forecasting centre issues:

  • river breakup and spring runoff advisories, throughout the spring
  • high water level alerts and flood watches, throughout the spring and summer

You can keep up with these advisories on our website, and they are also broadcast through Alberta Emergency Alerts – you can subscribe by emailFacebook or Twitter.

Photo of manual snowpack monitoring