Citizen scientists track climate change for researchers and municipalities

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Katie Sonier, environmental sustainability coordinator for the town of Stratford, holds a copy of the climate diary that will be used by residents who register as climate trackers.  (Shane Hennessey/CBC  - image credit)
Katie Sonier, environmental sustainability coordinator for the town of Stratford, holds a copy of the climate diary that will be used by residents who register as climate trackers. (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)

Residents of Stratford and Charlottetown are being asked to help track climate change in their communities, through a new project called Climate Trackers.

The municipalities are teaming up with UPEI's School of Climate Change and Adaptation to enlist participants who will observe weather, plants and wildlife in their neighbourhoods.

"We're really interested in things that recur every season, so migratory bird patterns, the time that leaves come out on trees, or different flowers come out in the spring," said Katie Sonier, environmental sustainability coordinator for the town of Stratford.

"Even in the fall, when leaves start to die and fall off the trees, and birds start to leave. Because we want to see what the shift is over time in these recurring patterns."

Sonier said the idea of citizen science is to gather more information, more quickly.

"It gets citizens involved and it helps us collect a lot more data than we could just as a municipality," Sonier said.

"We really want to just collect as much data as we can to figure out what our priorities are, especially as the climate is changing in the future."

Municipal interests

Sonier said some of the observations are of particular interest to municipalities such as issues around drainage and flooding, damage from storms, and whether or not there is sea ice present in the winter.

"That's really important for us to know where we need to prioritize our infrastructure work," Sonier said.

"If an area is flooding every year consistently, we need to make sure we address that to help it to not flood in the future."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Sonier said citizens can register online through the websites for the Town of Stratford and City of Charlottetown.

Participants receive a climate journal and a nature guide and can keep track of their records in the notebook.

They are then asked go to the UPEI Climate Diary app to upload their observations.

Randy McAndrew/CBC
Randy McAndrew/CBC

"There is a map of P.E.I. and there's little icons for all the observations that people have recorded since the app was created," Sonier said.

"Once you notice an observation like the first osprey of the year, for example, you can go on the app and choose your observation osprey and then choose your location and the date that you saw it."

Once you start thinking about these things, you do notice more
—Katie Sonier

Sonier said the information that is gathered through the project will be used by climate researchers at UPEI, as well as by municipal staff trying to plan for the future impacts of climate change.

Citizen scientists

Mary Hughes has been part of Stratford area watershed group since it started and heard about the climate trackers project at one of the group's meetings.

She will be participating along with her granddaughter Amelia.

"She's 11-years-old and she's had a great interest in the environment from the time she was very young," Hughes said.

"They do a lot of the trails," she said. "So she's used to looking and seeing."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Hughes said she has seen a lot of changes in Stratford in the 51 years she has lived in the community.

She said she's pleased the town is encouraging residents to become climate trackers.

"It's changing so quickly, and it's not changing for the best by any means, and we see that all around us, with the storms that are happening all the time, the water rising above levels that have been ongoing in the past," Hughes said.

We need to know what's going on in the environment, and how to prevent further damage
—Mary Hughes

"If we don't look at what's happening, and be prepared to make the changes, to keep this from destroying our environment, we're putting ourselves at risk," Hughes said.

"We need to know what's going on in the environment and how to prevent further damage."

Randy McAndrew/CBC
Randy McAndrew/CBC

No experience needed

Organizers said participants don't need any special scientific or data collection experience.

Sonier said climate trackers can also participate as part of a group, and families are encouraged to take part.

"We've had interest from different groups like Brownies and Girl Guides and we're trying to get it out to seniors' groups and we're going to reach out to our community garden folks as well," Sonier said.

"I think people are interested in the program and once they hear about it from their neighbours, it'll become even more popular."

Nancy Russell/CBC
Nancy Russell/CBC

Sonier said the project has changed the way that she looks at nature around her.

"I never really noticed all the different observations I was making. But now I say, 'I saw my first bumblebee of the season, I'm going to write that down in my journal,'" Sonier said.

"It's funny because once you start thinking about these things, you do notice more."

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