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Smartphone climate change app opens to public

By ScienceNetwork WA

Citizens can now contribute to climate change tracking for scientists by using their smartphones.

ClimateWatch, a citizen science project started in 2007 by EarthWatch Australia, has launched an iPhone app which allows the public to record species sightings immediately.

ClimateWatch enables the tracking of animal, bird, plant and insect species to determine the impact of climate change on their distribution and behaviour. So far it has over 25,000 data points recorded on the website launched in 2010 and over 5000 registered users.

ClimateWatch’s WA Project Manager Mr Richard Weatherill says that a lack of knowledge is not a barrier to participation.

“I don’t have a biology background but I have learnt so much by being involved in ClimateWatch and recording what I see,” he says.

He also pointed out that species can be found even in urban areas.

“I went out for coffee in Victoria Park and recorded welcome swallows that were nesting in the roof of a nearby building,” he says.

“The urban areas are where we will get the most data from.”

ClimateWatch is working with scientists on analysing and presenting the data for use in reports and research and may partner with other citizen science projects to complement the data gathering process in areas it doesn’t cover yet.

One such project is Tasmania’s Red Map that tracks marine species and is planning to expand nationally in November 2012. It is hoped that ClimateWatch will match UK based Project Noah’s success with using mobile apps.

Future ideas involve partnering with universities such as UWA and Curtin to implement ClimateWatch into the undergraduate biology degrees and get students involved. Initial trials were positive.

“We told them to record twenty observations and some of them recorded about 200,” Mr Weatherill says.

The Frontier Group designed the app with funding from John T. Reid Charitable Trusts and it was developed in partnership with the University of Melbourne and the Bureau of Meteorology.

An Android version will be released soon.

Citizen science refers to projects where scientists and researchers ask the public to deliver data on a large scale to further research. Large amounts of data can be gathered, processed or analysed faster to help researchers track trends and patterns. The SkyNet uses spare computer processing power to process radio astronomy data and Ancient Lives asks users to help decode Greek letters on papyri.

ClimateWatch is the first such project in the Southern Hemisphere.