What is Community Science?
Community science. Citizen science. Participatory science. Volunteer monitoring. What does it all mean? There are many different titles and definitions, but generally they all involve members of the public engaging in some form of data collection for scientific purposes. This can either be with the collaboration or guidance from professional scientists or independently. The data collected by these dedicated individuals can inform professional scientists on many different research areas, such as water quality, air quality, or wildlife populations.
Benefits of Community Science
Using these data allows the professional scientists to expand their reach. It also allows individuals to engage with their environment on a more personal level. Whether that’s interpreting the data, understanding how their actions affect the environmental quality, or just getting out in nature for a bit, there is something in it for everyone.
History of Community Science
Community science has been around for many years. One of the oldest known projects is Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, which started on December 25, 1900! Tens of thousands of people in North America participate every year. While very impressive, you don’t need a large group to engage in community science. In fact, you could do it by yourself or with a small group.
Below are some helpful resources to get involved with a branch of the environment that you are most interested in!
How do I get involved?
NJDEP monitors air pollutants throughout New Jersey to protect public health and the environment. Communities can now also monitor their own air quality, using portable and affordable instruments. These “low-cost sensors” range in price from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Learn more at https://www.nj.gov/dep/airmon/community-science.html
Air Sampler Loan Program
Students can use air samplers borrowed from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to study the characteristics, sources and impacts of particulate air pollution (also known as soot) in their community, specifically black carbon pollution. They can collect and analyze data, and suggest actions that can be taken to reduce or prevent particulate pollution impacts. Learn more at https://www.nj.gov/dep/seeds/airqed/SAMP/
The MyCoast: New Jersey portal is used to collect and analyze photos of coastal events and places. Photos are linked to data about weather and tides. This is then used to create reports that help government agencies, business owners, and residents to understand coastal changes and make informed decisions.
If you care about your local waterbody and you’re interested in science, community water monitoring might be the activity you’re looking for. There are many ways you can take part in making your local waterbodies healthier for people and for the animals that live in the water, too. You might like to wade into a stream to collect macroinvertebrates (the organisms that live on the stream bottom) or visit your lake to make observations about how your lake “looks”. You can view the list below of water monitoring projects organized by county.
- Monitoring lakes for “Harmful Algal Blooms.” An overabundance of cyanobacteria can make the water unsafe for people and pets. If you want to help keep an eye out for HABs, visit NJDEP-CyanoHAB Reporting for more information.
- Contact the New Jersey Watershed Watch Network if you want to start a new community-based or volunteer water monitoring program, if you need technical help with an existing program, or if you want to help monitor for road salt in streams. NJDEP provides funding for this network to support volunteer groups. The goal is to help groups reach their goals for collecting and using water data.
- For more information, please visit the NJDEP Community Water Monitoring page.
AmeriCorps NJ Watershed Ambassadors Program
For the past 22 years, the AmeriCorps New Jersey Watershed Ambassadors Program has played an important role in raising awareness of how human activities can affect water quality, especially in one of the most populated states in the nation. Each year, a new group of 20 Watershed Ambassadors engages with community members, channeling awareness into action.
AmeriCorps members serve with local partners within New Jersey’s 20 watershed management areas (WMAs). Besides the 20 full time Watershed Ambassadors, 3 part-time Source Water Protection Ambassadors serve from locations in Northern, Central, and Southern NJ. The Source Water Protection Ambassadors serve from September – May, conducting education and stewardship projects that relate to ground water and sources of drinking water.
EarthEcho Water Challenge
The EarthEcho Water Challenge (formerly World Water Monitoring Challenge) is an international program that runs annually from March 22 (the United Nations World Water Day) through December and equips anyone to protect the water resources we depend on every day. The EarthEcho Water Challenge builds public awareness and involvement in protecting water resources around the world by engaging citizens to conduct basic monitoring of their local waterbodies.
NJ Watershed Associations by County
- Information on how to get involved in a number of NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife volunteer projects
- Get involved with conducting research on a variety of different species, help implement conservation plans, and assist with restoring habitat.
- The NJ Volunteer Wildlife Conservation Corps are involved in projects such as waterfowl banding, shore bird nest surveys, fishing instruction, endangered species monitoring, permit sales, data entry and office assistance.
- Join tens of thousands across the Americas every year to engage in the Christmas bird count.
Got a pool? Help the NJ Forest Service monitor for invasive insects, such as the Asian Longhorned Beetle
Help the NJ Forest Service find and track Beech Leaf Disease
Help the NJ Forest Service monitor for Oak Wilt
Help the NJ Forest Service by conducting visual monitoring for the Elm Zigzag Sawfly
- Federal resources on participatory science
- Federal guidance to assist organizations with starting or growing their own participatory science projects
- Find volunteer opportunities that match topics you’re curious or concerned about.
- Projects supported by federal agencies
- Resources for teaching climate science and community science projects
- Citizen Science Toolkit