Citizen Science Projects Help Scientists Understand Past and Future Climate

With the rise of computers and social networks, crowdsourcing is changing how we fund ideas, raise awareness of important issues, and motivate community action.

Citizen science projects are also a growing trend that lends itself to the crowdsourcing concept. These projects provide opportunities for interested citizens to use their computers and/or time to help with scientific research.

Empowering Climate Research Through Citizen Science

The basic idea isn’t necessarily new. For many years, organizations like the Earthwatch Institute have engaged volunteers on the ground and worldwide with scientists pursuing research of all types. In 2007, we participated in one such project with Dr. Peter Kershaw called Climate Change at the Arctic’s Edge.

But citizen scientists don’t have to travel to the Canadian Arctic or anywhere else to help further scientific inquiry and improve our understanding of the world around us.

Bridging the Past and Future with Community Contributions is a project that helps scientists recover Arctic and global weather observations made by U.S. ships since the mid-nineteenth century. Volunteers help transcribe and digitize these log records, improving our knowledge of past environmental conditions and contributing to future climate model projections. The better we understand our past, the more accurately we can project possible future scenarios.

“We hope to unlock millions of weather, sea ice and other environmental observations which are recorded in these documents,” said NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D in a recent interview. is a part of the Zooniverse Project, a collection of individual research projects ranging from space and cosmology, environment and biology, history and humanities, and climate. The Cyclone Center is another climate-focused project in the Zooniverse catalog. The project enlists volunteers to help record cyclone patterns of the past 30 years so climate scientists can better analyze the immense amount of data available to them in their research.

The dialog surrounding global warming, at least in certain politically motivated circles, has too often cast climate scientists as suspect, as “the other,” apart from mainstream citizens going about their daily lives. In the process, science, knowledge, and inquiry are diminished, which does nobody any good.

Working side-by-side with scientists in the field in an Earthwatch project or assisting from the comfort of home with nothing more than your curiosity and a computer helps to bridge this gap.

Citizen science is vital to understanding our world and our future on this planet. So check out Earthwatch or Zooniverse and join the ranks of citizen scientists!

Image credit: National Archives

Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Get in Touch


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Articles

Stay in touch

To be updated with the latest climate and environmental news and commentary. Learning to live in the Anthropocene.


Latest Posts