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Crowdsourcing and oceanography, a mix made out of necessity

By Dave Armstrong - 12 Sep 2014 11:9:0 GMT
Crowdsourcing and oceanography, a mix made out of necessity

Of all the sights of the sea, this giant would be the greatest, unless a tiny sea slug is your personal taste. Whatever, getting out there, on the coast or sailing,, is being encouraged by oceanographers everywhere, who need your input ( for those in the know, this is the largest fish Mola mola, the sun fish); Mola image; Credit: © Shutterstock

Da Vinci, Faraday and Mendel, Darwin and Benjamin Franklin are quoted as great "citizen-scientists," who could be joined tomorrow by modern examples of people who can help professionals. The idea of filling in gaps in knowledge would appeal to hobbyists similar to the "greats" of the past. Certainly, politicians seem to lack science, so we can assume that the general populus would benefit from a return to less exclusive research. Or maybe they would really want to extend their green credentials in another direction?

Federico M. Lauro of the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore and many other oceanographers from Denmark, British Columbia, the US and Australia publish, "The Common Oceanographer: Crowdsourcing the Collection of Oceanographic Data" in PLOS Biology. Oceanographers need as much help as, for example, last century's 11,000 US weather reporters who had a tradition of supplying data to national records.

The crowdsourcing approach applies in a special way to two-thirds of the earth, which is ocean. The lack of data is overwhelming, and models are merely models. The full story will never be known unless we install sensors everywhere, but human senses can be employed, it seems. Using simple instruments or ID keys, basic observations of microorganisms using Niskin bottles or weather and debris reports are all that is needed in many scientific endeavours. Remote parts can be covered, and already are, by people such as lone yachtsmen, but the amount of data collected could be increased.

Costs and especially carbon costs would be cut very effectively by using the wind powered sailing yacht instead of many more scientifically-equipped research vessels. The mechanism of reporting is already in place, as yachtspeople communicate because of need. Extending their record keeping seems relatively uncomplicated. Here is an example of student investigation of a Pacific "garbage patch" in 2011, in - Fish Feeding on Plastic.

Coastal records could also be simple extensions of school, college or university records, as many parts of remote coasts could be visited by the nearest establishment.

Whether the idea continues as at present, or is taken up enthusiastically by government and scientists is debatable. Let's hope young people and old, trained and raw scientists alike, will take this to their hearts. Enjoyment is part of life, and achievement can be allied to it in this endeavour!