Hydrology, Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing

Hydrology & hydrological data

Society is faced with numerous local and global water-related challenges and water scientists are increasingly asked to provide the foundation for appropriate water management decisions. However, hydrology and water resources research is frequently restricted by limited data availability, particularly, but not only, in developing regions where water management issues are urgent. The decline of national hydrological and meteorological observation networks is often frustrating, especially in light of the challenges. There are many new measurement techniques, such as remote sensing, geophysical methods and wireless sensor networks. However, important hydrological variables such as soil moisture or streamflow remain difficult to observe with a high spatiotemporal resolution.

Citizen science and crowdsourcing

The Oxford English Dictionary defines citizen science as “scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions” and a citizen scientist as “a member of the general public who engages in scientific work, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions; an amateur scientist”. Citizen science provides not only new types of data for hydrology and water resources, but also engages the public to raise awareness of environmental issues (Johnson et al. 2014).

Environmental data collection by citizen scientists is not an entirely new idea. The annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which provides critical data on bird population trends, started in 1900 and is considered the longest running citizen science survey in the world. The Swedish meteorologist Tor Bergeron asked people successfully to measure snow depth (Bergeron 1949) and rainfall (Bergeron 1960). Now smartphones and social media can be used for communication between researchers and citizen scientists.

Crowdsourcing is a form of citizen science, where data is provided by “the crowd”. Anyone can participate!!!

Ten principles of citizen science

The “ten principles of citizen science” nicely summarize citizen science and are taken from the following book chapter:

Robinson L.D., Cawthray, J.L., West, S.E., Bonn, A., & Ansine, J. (2018). Ten principles of citizen science. In S. Hecker, M. Haklay, A. Bowser, Z. Makuch, J. Vogel, & A. Bonn. Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy. London, UCL Press. 1–23.

  1. Citizen science projects actively involve citizens in scientific endeavour that generates new knowledge or understanding. Citizens may act as contributors, collaborators or as project leaders and have a meaningful role in the project.
  2. Citizen science projects have a genuine science outcome. For example, answering a research question or informing conservation action, management decisions or environmental policy.
  3. Both the professional scientists and the citizen scientists benefit from taking part. Benefits may include the publication of research outputs, learning opportunities, personal enjoyment, social benefits, satisfaction through contributing to scientific evidence, for example, to address local, national and international issues, and through that, the potential to influence policy.
  4. Citizen scientists may, if they wish, participate in multiple stages of the scientific process. This may include developing the research question, designing the method, gathering and analysing data, and communicating the results.
  5. Citizen scientists receive feedback from the project. For example, how their data are being used and what the research, policy or societal outcomes are.
  6. Citizen science is considered a research approach like any other, with limitations and biases that should be considered and controlled for. However unlike traditional research approaches, citizen science provides opportunity for greater public engagement and democratisation of science.
  7. Citizen science project data and metadata are made publicly available and where possible, results are published in an open-access format. Data sharing may occur during or after the project, unless there are security or privacy concerns that prevent this.
  8. Citizen scientists are acknowledged in project results and publications.
  9. Citizen science programmes are evaluated for their scientific output, data quality, participant experience and wider societal or policy impact.
  10. The leaders of citizen science projects take into consideration legal and ethical issues surrounding copyright, intellectual property, data-sharing agreements, confidentiality, attribution and the environmental impact of any activities.