What is Stream Tracker?
As spotlighted in our March Newsletter, Stream Tracker is a citizen science project funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Citizen Science for Earth Systems Program. It is run out of the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability (ESS) at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. Stream Tracker studies intermittent streams – i.e., streams that that do not flow all the time. In general, intermittent streams lack the attention that is paid to larger streams that flow year-round. However, these smaller streams are important for forecasting water supplies, mapping critical aquatic habitat, and understanding how streamflow conditions change over time. Stream Tracker gathers data on these previously overlooked streams through crowdsourcing observations of when and where intermittent streams are flowing.
Citizen Science in the Age of Apps: CitSci Mobile
Stream Tracker observers navigate to streams in the field and record observations of streamflow presence or absence. To do this, the project is using mobile phones and the free CitSci.org Mobile Application which allows members to access project datasheets in the field to record their observations. Stream Tracker observers first join the project on CitSci.org and then download the CitSci Mobile App, available for both Android and iOS. Using the App, Stream Tracker observers either establish a new site where a stream channel intersects a road or trail or selects from pre-established sites. The App uses the built-in GPS of the phone to record site coordinates with a tap of a button. Additionally, the App is designed to work offline, even where there is no cell service. This is a major asset as many Stream Tracker sites are remote. Users then record whether they observe flow, no flow, standing water, or if the channel is covered/not visible, as well as take photos and add additional field comments. Once the project member returns to cell service, they can upload their observations from the App directly to the project database on CitSci.org. Using the CitSci Mobile App is convenient as most people carry their mobile phones with them in their day-to-day life, whether they are walking in their neighborhood, commuting to work or hiking in the wilderness. For those who do not have interest in using a mobile phone, users can also download paper datasheets from the project website and then enter their observations and photos directly online on the project site on CitSci.org.
Citizen Science in Practice
Intermittent streams are often small and make up a large (>50%) portion of river networks worldwide. This makes these streams often difficult to map and expensive to monitor. Stream Tracker was drawn to citizen science and the power of crowdsourcing because so many people encounter intermittent streams in their daily lives. By simply having a way to record their observations, each member is able to contribute to a growing dataset that covers a broad geographic area that was previously unobtainable. Stream Tracker is currently made up of 118 members who have made 2,394 observations and 4,977 measurements in over 400 locations in CO, UT, CA, AZ, OH, and MA.
Meet the Project Manager
Kira Puntenney-Desmond is the Stream Tracker project manager, working at Colorado State University. She was first inspired by citizen science in high school when she and a group of her peers committed to monitoring the water quality of a local stream. She appreciated the opportunity to observe her surroundings in a critical way that also benefited her community. Kira says that citizen science has benefits and challenges like every type of science. For Stream Tracker, she has seen many benefits. The project team has been able to use the Stream Tracker observations to work to improve models for predicting streamflow from satellite and aerial imagery as well as continue to advance understanding of what causes streams to be intermittent. To confront the common challenge of checking the accuracy of data from so many different project recorders, Stream Tracker provides participants with four predetermined options (flow, no flow, standing water, channel covered/other) to minimize misrepresentation of flow conditions. To Kira, working on this project is important because it generates baseline data about when and where streams are flowing that previously did not exist. This dataset can then become a resource when tackling how the ecology and hydrology of intermittent streams change with disturbance (e.g., drought, fire, flood), land use change (e.g., urbanization), and shifts in climate.
Want to get Involved?
Interested in joining the project or taking a look at or using their data? Please visit the CitSci.org Stream Tracker page or visit the project website. You can view the how-to tutorial on how to use the mobile applications here
CitSci.org – Project Profile for Stream Tracker, CitSci.org.
Guiden, Mary. Citizen Scientists Track Streams, Trees, Birds Online. Warner College of Natural Resources, 4 Dec. 2017
Cover Photo: Jordan River by AdamWard, StreamTracker citizen scientist