The Roanoker - September/October 2020 - 39

In the Roanoke region, citizen
scientists participate in bumblebee
and firefly counts. They listen to
frog calls and monitor bluebird
boxes. They report changing
weather conditions. And
document plants and animals
along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Roanoke River Project
currently has 47 stream monitors
and is regularly training new folks
to check area waterways. The City
of Roanoke recently undertook an
urban heat island study as one of
only 13 cities in the nation chosen
to participate in the research. (See
sidebar.)
But as varied as the citizen
science projects around the world
might be, they have one thing in
common: They tap in to people's
desire to make a difference.
"Our volunteers are always
asking: 'What can I do?'" says
Mary Ann Brenchick, Clean
Valley Council's executive director.
"People want to do more. And
they want to have meaningful
work to do."

Citizen Scientists Take
Roanoke's Temperature
On one day in August, 15 citizen scientists drove for three hours, at three different times of
day, with sensors on their bikes or cars.
The teams followed a route devised by the City of Roanoke. The sensors measured the
air's temperature as the vehicles moved. The data will be used to create a map of the city
showing where temperatures are consistently higher than average.
This map can then be superimposed on other data maps - perhaps showing poverty or
COVID-19 positivity. The map can be used to guide planning decisions and dollars - helping
Roanoke leaders know where trees need to be planted, for instance.
This citizen science project is the latest way the City of Roanoke is involving citizens
in data gathering. For several years, citizens have been collecting data from the Roanoke
River. And for nine years, the City of Roanoke has held a "Green Academy," where citizens
sign up to learn about Roanoke's air quality, recycling, renewable energy and local food,
among other topics.
But this heat island study is a first for Roanoke. The city was selected as one of only 13
communities nationwide.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration collects satellite weather images,
but on-the-ground temperatures give a level of detail that can be obtained no other way,
explains Nell Boyle, Roanoke's sustainability and outreach coordinator.
The city benefits from participating in the study in two ways, she says, by obtaining the
data and also by educating city residents.
"The real thing is the awareness that it builds in the community," Boyle says."This is a
little bit of a new game for us. If it goes well, hopefully we can do more." -CN

Citizen science explodes

TONI GENBERG, COURTESY OF VIRGINIA MASTER NATURALISTS

When experts reach back to
pinpoint the beginnings of citizen
science as we know it today, they
land on a National Audubon
Society project from 1987. It
was called the Citizens' Acid
Rain Monitoring Network and it
had all the ingredients for citizen
science success: volunteers from
around the country contributing
data that was easy to obtain
and, taken together, exposed an
undeniable truth.
Some 280 volunteers collected
r ain and/or snow samples
over the course of a year. The
conclusions were so uniform, over
such a wide swath of the nation,
that less than three years after the
study began, federal legislators

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The Roanoker - September/October 2020

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