Your behavior appears to be a little unusual. Please verify that you are not a bot.


USGS Seeks Citizen Input in Crowdsourcing Effort

July 10, 2013  - By 0 Comments

“Experience an earthquake? See a landslide? Are your flowers blooming earlier? New building in your neighborhood? Tell us about it!”

That’s the message issued today by the U.S. Geological Survey.

“In an ever-changing environment, it would be ideal if the U.S Geological Survey had a presence in every corner of the nation. While we may not be able to cover every inch of the landscape, we can greatly enhance our scope with your help,” the USGS continues.

The USGS has a variety of citizen science efforts where people can report what’s happening in their own backyards. It’s seeking information on events such as earthquakes, landslides, new construction, and climate. “If you live in Alaska, we want you to tell us if you experience a volcanic ash fall and even collect a sample,” the USGS said.

The information gets aggregated and disseminated through a variety of tools geared toward making this information easily accessible so it can be put to use. Using , there are interactive online systems where people can report what it was like during an earthquake, and then see all the reports for that event mapped out for the affected area.

“Through your contribution, not only will your observations build a much larger and more complete database, but you will also become a virtual member of the USGS scientific team!” the USGS said.

Map of tweets containing the word “terremoto” (Italian for “earthquake”) collected in the two minutes following a magnitude 6.0 earthquake in Northern Italy on May 5, 2012. The red star shows the location of the earthquake. The tweets are concentrated in the epicentral area but discussion of the earthquake has already spread beyond the impacted region. This shows the speed that USGS Tweet Earthquake Dispatch (TED) collects tweets to provide insight into potential earthquake events. Image Credit: USGS.

Map of tweets containing the word “terremoto” (Italian for “earthquake”) collected in the two minutes following a magnitude 6.0 earthquake in Northern Italy on May 5, 2012. The red star shows the location of the earthquake. The tweets are concentrated in the epicentral area but discussion of the earthquake has already spread beyond the impacted region. This shows the speed that USGS Tweet Earthquake Dispatch (TED) collects tweets to provide insight into potential earthquake events. Image Credit: USGS.

The valuable role of crowd-sourcing data is outlined in a 2013 report by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, authored in collaboration with the USGS. The report highlights success stories from the USGS’ Tweet Earthquake Dispatch (@USGSted) program, Did You Feel It? and related USGS activities. For example, although there was an exceedingly swift international aid response to the massive 2008 earthquake in Wenchuan, China, the first reports of the event outside of the impacted area came from citizens, and information spread through the use of social networking tools such as Twitter. Similarly, 148,000 individuals used Did You Feel It? to describe their experience of a magnitude 5.8 earthquake that occurred in Virginia on August 23, 2011. Because large-magnitude earthquakes are fairly rare along the East Coast, there were only a handful of seismometers installed nearby to record the event. Thus, much of the preliminary data regarding this earthquake came from the DYFI? system.

These are the ways USGS gathers information from the public:

Improving Earthquake Monitoring

Did You Feel It? (DYFI?) is an online crowd-sourcing system developed by the USGS for the public to provide first-hand accounts of earthquakes they experience. As one of the longest standing and most successful examples of citizen-based science to date, it has garnered more than 2,790,000 total responses since its launch in 1997.

Through this program, users are able to document the shaking level they experienced and find out what was felt elsewhere. Specifically, USGS scientists aggregate results by zip code (domestically) and by city (globally) to show reported shaking intensity. Those reports also augment shaking data from sensors and are incorporated in ShakeMaps used for emergency response. To document a seismic encounter, visit the DYFI? home page and fill out a brief questionnaire.

Tweeting and Shaking

Many regions around the world have only a scant number of seismometers, complicating the rapid detection and characterization of earthquakes. To enhance earthquake monitoring, Twitter has proven to be an advantageous source for USGS scientists to receive rapid firsthand accounts of potential events.

The USGS Tweet Earthquake Dispatch (TED) program rapidly detects possible earthquakes when a large number of public tweets mention “earthquake” or its equivalent in several languages. These tweet-based detections often come prior to sensor alerts in sparsely instrumented regions. USGS analysts at the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) receive these indicators and then turn to more accurate earthquake sensors and instrumental data for confirmation and quantitative assessment. For earthquakes with a magnitude 5.5 or greater, the USGS sends out notifications via the Twitter account @USGSted to people around the world.

Did You See It? Watch Out for Landslides

In an average year, landslides can cost the United States up to $2 billion in damage. Now, scientists at the USGS are asking the public to help track landslides to better understand how to protect lives and property. This is being done through the system, Did You Feel It? This program allows respondents to report detailed accounts of observed landslides, including photographs. To make your contribution, visit the DYSI? webpage and click on the Report a Landslide tab.

Ascending eruption cloud from Redoubt Volcano as viewed to the west from the Kenai Peninsula. Photo Credit: R.J. Clucas, USGS.

Ascending eruption cloud from Redoubt Volcano as viewed to the west from the Kenai Peninsula. Photo Credit: R.J. Clucas, USGS.

Is Ash Falling? Helping Monitor Volcanic Eruptions

Alaska has an abundance of active volcanoes, averaging two eruptions a year. Citizens in Alaskan communities can now go online and report their observations of volcanic ash through the Is Ash Falling? system, which was developed by the Alaskan Volcano Observatory (AVO). Ash fall reports are shared with the National Weather Service (NWS) to track where an ash plume is headed and to guide them in making official statements and advisories about ash fallout onto the landscape. AVO is jointly operated by the USGS, the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

This tool will help AVO scientists build a more complete record of the amount, duration, and extent of ash fall. Getting first-hand accounts of ash fall will also help refine computer models of ash cloud movement and interpretation of satellite imagery. Citizens are also encouraged to collect ash samples and send them to AVO. With your help, volcano scientists can greatly expand their sampling of ash deposits.

Phenology-PhotographThe National Map Corps

Citizen volunteers are also making significant additions to The National Map (TNM), a web-based geospatial visualization platform. The public is encouraged to collect data on manmade structures such as schools, hospitals, post offices, police stations, and other buildings. The project started in 2012 in Colorado and has expanded to 35 states. A recognition program has also been created where badges can be earned based on the number of data points a volunteer contributes. This effort is through The National Map Corps (TNMCorps) Volunteered Geographic Information project, which partners with organizations such as 4-H and GISCorps.

Observing Nature’s Calendar

As the seasons come and go, temperatures fluctuate, leaves emerge and change colors, and animals migrate. The USA National Phenology Network gives you this opportunity through its program Nature’s Notebook. Volunteers are collecting observations of these seasonal changes—referred to as phenology—to help scientists better understand subjects including climate change, invasive species, agricultural production, impacts of frosts and freezes, and the timing of pests and diseases.

This article is tagged with , , , , and posted in GIS News
Tracy Cozzens

About the Author:

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.

Post a Comment