Partnering with the Community: Operation Healthy Air

In May, we began Operation Healthy Air in Long Beach. There was strong support from the Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach City College, California State University Long Beach, Saint Anthony’s High School, the City itself and many local residents. This was our first deployment of sensors. The feedback from local participants and partners helped us figure out how to best continue the program. We learned about the subtle (and not so subtle) temperature gradients that cut across the city, and the challenges in finding suitable backyards for the ozone sensors given how compact the downtown area of Long Beach is.

From the beginning of July through the end of September, we worked with partners to train and find interested community members across the Inland Empire. Partners included: Chino Basin Water Conservation Resource District, Riverside Corona Resource Conservation District and the UC Cooperative Extension for Master Gardeners. These partners hosted training events and supported our collective efforts to plan and support the setting up of sensors in local backyards, front yards, parks, and schools. Through discussion groups, we found that there is interest from community members in understanding the effect of landscaping on local temperature, as well as the influence of seasonal winds from the foothills.

As our Operation Healthy Air participants know, opportunities to engage in the “science” were quite varied—with some ways being quite challenging. Those of you who tried the mapping know! Thank you for all of your feedback to date. It has been a huge help in shaping our efforts going forward. Many of our participants had sensors in their backyard, while others wanted to do all of the possible activities.

Based on our preliminary findings, it seems that every part was useful. Many participants who collected in-home temperature data said that they learned a lot about which parts of their houses were cooler and at what times. They were able to use that information to decide when to open or close windows to move cooler air from outside when it was hotter inside.

For those of you who wondered if we lost any iButton sensors left on street trees, the short answer is yes, but not enough to create a problem. Working with incomplete data is a challenge that we face in cities, and we have some data analysis tools that help us overcome that.

We found the mapping component to be the most challenging. We are working closely with the developers of the programs and they are thankful to have all of your feedback—even those who were frustrated. We have seen interest from teachers in mapping, as it fits well with the science curriculum they need to teach. We hope that involving students could be helpful in finishing the mapping work that remains. If you are a teacher or know one who is interested in participating (regardless of your location), please contact Mark Chandler at mchandler@earthwatch.org.

After spending time with community members, it is clear that there is an interest in figuring out how to create more livable cities.

There are several next steps planned. The first is to process all the data. Processing the data means putting it all into spreadsheets, cleaning it up (making sure it contains as few errors as possible), and then sharing it with partners and anyone who is interested in access to “raw” data.

We have much of the air temperature data from Campaigns 1 and 2 available for sharing for anyone who wants raw data. We have begun to incorporate some of the ozone data into a website where you can view the data based on which sensor it came from. We will share updates on this as they become available.

We look forward to sharing more results at upcoming workshops early in 2018. This will also be a chance to share what our plans are in 2018 for continued engagement.

We are also working with students from Claremont McKenna College who will be conducting a survey of all those who participated to better understand why you became involved and what your hopes for outcomes might be. This again will be very helpful as we think about how best to engage community members going forward. Thank you for your time on this.

Leading, Training, and Motivating Citizen Scientists

By Namrata Sengupta

Ellie Perry has been involved with the Earthwatch Urban Resiliency (UR) Program since June 2014, as the Los Angeles area Program Consultant. She assisted with the Operation Resilient Trees project. Ellie recruited and led citizen scientists into the field as well as trained them to collect data independently, during these past years. As we are wrapping up the Operation Resilient Trees project to get ready for our new program Operation Healthy Air, we decided to catch up with Ellie and let her share some of her experiences in leading citizen science initiatives.

Ellie Perry (photo credit: Carrie Lederer)
Ellie Perry (photo credit: Carrie Lederer)

Q1. What has been the most exciting part of being associated with the UR program?

I think most of the excitement came with trying to build a citizen science program almost entirely from scratch in an area where the organization (leading it) didn’t have much of a local presence to start.  Since there were so many directions the program could go, it was an exciting process to build it from the ground up, try out different engagement models, and figure out what ultimately would stick and resonate with people in the region.  

(photo credit: Carrie Lederer)
(Photo credit: Carrie Lederer)

Q2. Which aspect of the program motivated you the most?

I was mostly motivated by the citizen scientists themselves, and how committed they were to contributing and volunteering their time.  During my tenure, hundreds of people dedicated hours and hours to collect data for this project, not to mention the many educators who led entire classrooms semester after semester in collecting data in the field.  To freely volunteer that much time and put in that much effort when the final policy impacts from their work are still years off, takes serious dedication and foresight.  Citizen science isn’t as immediately gratifying as something like volunteering at a soup kitchen, doing a beach clean-up, or working at an animal shelter, and a lot of potential volunteers get turned off by the fact that it may take months or years for their efforts to result in something tangible they can immediately see.  The fact that these volunteers decided to serve as citizen scientists fully understanding that is admirable.  

(photo credit: Carrie Lederer)
Ellie interacting with citizen scientists (Photo credit: Carrie Lederer)

Q3. What were some of the challenges you experienced while working with this program?

One of the current problems in citizen science as a whole is the general suspicion that volunteers will never be able to collect data as efficiently as a scientist.  Even though many of these measurements are relatively easy to take, there was constant scrutiny and pressure on the effectiveness of the training, the quality of the data, the competency of the volunteers, etc. especially since there was no previous benchmark to compare with.

Q4. Can you share one or two of your favorite experiences from the program?

Reverting to the issue of citizen scientist-collected data being scrutinized harder than that collected by scientists, it was incredibly satisfying to hear the results of the recent quality control study the lab/Earthwatch performed on the data.  There’s a recent blog post covering the full results, but they mostly found that the data the citizen scientists were bringing in was well within 95%+ accuracy of the data collected by themselves (which statistically is no difference at all).  It gave a lot of confidence to the researchers and Earthwatch, and it was a real affirmation that the training we were providing to the citizen scientists was effective.  

Ellie with Operation Resilient Trees - citizen scientists (photo credit: Carrie Lederer)
Ellie with Operation Resilient Trees – citizen scientists (photo credit: Carrie Lederer)

Q5. What message would you like to give to the larger community interested in getting involved in citizen science projects and initiatives?

I would say it’s important to be patient if you’re going to get involved with citizen science.  As I mentioned previously, it’s a very slow walk from data to results to policy impacts, not a sprint. Bridging the communication gap between science and the public is an incredibly rare skill, and it’s not very common to find leaders who can speak to both sides of the table equally well.  Being patient while the kinks that will ultimately arise as a result get worked out is important if you want to stay involved for the long haul.  

Urban Resiliency Program citizen scientists (photo credit: Carrie Lederer)
Urban Resiliency Program citizen scientists (photo credit: Carrie Lederer)

To explore citizen science opportunities with the UR program, connect with us and learn how to get involved.