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Environmental News

"EARTH TALK"

From the Editors of E / The Environmental Magazine

THIS WEEK'S COLUMN

Dear EarthTalk: What exactly are “citizen scientists” and how can I become one?
—Eric Wilson, Barre, MA

Project Noah is an app-based tool that allows everyday people to share wildlife sightings via their Internet-connected mobile devices. It has become one of the most popular online communities for nature exploration and documentation.

Graphic © Project Noah

“Citizen scientists” are members of the public who help scientists and researchers by making observations and/or collecting and recording data. The term was first popularized by the National Audubon Society as part of its annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), during which volunteers from across the country fan out to count local birds. The aggregated data has been helping Audubon assess the health of U.S. bird populations and plan its conservation initiatives accordingly since the tradition began in 1900.

Thousands of Audubon members still participate in the CBC, though modern-day citizen scientists are more likely to be members of Project Noah, an app-based tool that allows everyday people to share wildlife sightings via their Internet-connected mobile devices. Through the power of so-called “crowdsourcing” (outsourcing a task to a distributed but undefined group of people), it has become one of the most popular online communities for nature exploration and documentation. User-created local missions allow members to observe specific wildlife species based on their own interests, accessing the efforts and enthusiasm of other Project Noah members in the process. And of course, individuals or small groups or classes can search for other missions to help via Project Noah’s website or mobile app.

Some other examples of environmentally oriented citizen science include BugGuide.net, an online community of amateur and professional naturalists who share observations of insects and collaborate on related research, and Citclops, a European Union-funded project where everyday people help scientists gather data to assess the environmental status of water bodies across that continent.

Budding citizen scientists looking for different types of projects can browse the offerings on Zooniverse, a citizen science web portal that grew out of the online crowdsourced Galaxy Zoo project, whereby amateur astronomers help classify the morphology of galaxies. Over 700,000 volunteers have so far contributed time to various Zooniverse projects. Many Zooniverse projects pertain to space and astronomy, but green-leaning citizen scientists will find plenty to pitch in on there. For example, analyzing wartime ship logs to better model Earth’s climate, categorizing underwater calls from endangered killer whales to help identify and track family groups, or identifying African animals “caught” on millions of camera trap pictures.

According to Zooniverse, conducting research by using citizen science has several advantages. One is the ability to cope with extremely large data sets so that researchers can access many person-years’ worth of classifications within days, weeks or months. Another is the fact that so many multiple independent interactions with the data sets help highlight quantitative errors and also serve as great training regimens for how to incorporate machine learning approaches to classification problems.

“While the primary goal of our projects is to produce academic research, by their very nature they are also outreach projects,” reports Zooniverse. “As it involves our volunteers directly in the process of research, citizen science is a powerful tool for both formal and informal education.”

CONTACTS: Audubon CBC; Project Noah; BugGuide.net; Zooniverse.

 
A NEW SET OF ANSWERS IS FEATURED EACH WEEK!

 

Dear EarthTalk: What is the Living Building Challenge and how does it differ from the LEED certification program?
—Jason Marshall, Richmond, VA

So far, six different projects, from New York State to Hawaii, have been certified as “Living Buildings.” The likely 7th is Seattle’s Bullitt Center (pictured here in progress), a six-story solar-powered "net zero" building designed to make extensive reuse of rainwater and day lighting and which features many other green amenities.

Photo © Joe Wolf, courtesy Flickr

Both Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and the Living Building Challenge (LBC) were created with the same goal in mind: to encourage more sustainability and resource conservation in architecture, design, construction and building operations. LEED, a program of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), is well known in architecture, building and design circles as the standard for certifying the green attributes of new and retrofitted structures (and even entire neighborhoods).

Developers can reference LEED’s 110-point rating system to inform choices regarding design, technology, siting, landscaping and other elements of building or renovation processes. Structures using the greenest versions of each element would qualify for the highest LEED rating, Platinum (followed by Gold, Silver, and just plain Certified). In general, a project gets certified the day its ribbon is cut—as long as developers followed through on implementing what they committed to on the LEED checklist. Upwards of 7,000 projects spanning some 1.5 billion square feet of development area across the U.S. and 30 other countries have qualified for some kind of LEED certification so far.

Meanwhile, LBC, created in 2006 by the Seattle-based non-profit International Living Building Institute (renamed the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) in 2011), is a performance-based standard where a building only qualifies if it achieves its energy, water and waste efficiency goals moving forward after the ribbon is cut. In fact, since LBC certification is based on actual, rather than modeled or anticipated performance, projects must be operational for at least 12 consecutive months prior to evaluation by the ILFI.

Given the focus on performance, LBC does not provide as much detailed guidance, let alone a checklist of green attributes, instead letting the developers of each individual project decide for themselves how to best achieve their efficiency and conservation goals via means appropriate to the project and to the region.

That said, each project vying for LBC status must follow 20 general imperatives arranged under a system of seven general performance areas (or in the lingo of LBC: “petals”): Site, Water, Energy,
Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Given that the imperatives are general, they can be applied to any conceivable project type, be it a building, infrastructure, landscape or community development. But whatever type of project, if it is to meet the exacting standards of LBC it must live up to each one.

One of the imperatives under the Energy petal, for instance, is “net zero energy” meaning the structure must harvest or generate as much power as it needs via alternative renewable sources. Within the Materials petal, another imperative is avoiding any of hundreds of building materials on ILFI’s “Red List” of banned materials and substances. Yes another imperative, under the Site petal, is “car-free living.”

Six different projects, from New York State to Hawaii, have so far been certified by ILFI as “Living Buildings.” The likely 7th is Seattle’s Bullitt Center, a six-story solar-powered net zero building designed to make extensive reuse of rainwater and day lighting and which features many other green amenities.

CONTACTS: LEED; Living Building Challenge.

A SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM

 

 

 

 

 

SEND IN YOUR QUESTIONS...

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.

 

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