Changes in temperature, precipitation, and plant and animal life are happening around the world – whether scientists are there to record them or not. To that end, some organizations enlist volunteers to keep local tabs on global warming.
Bill Runyon, a National Weather Service retiree, collects precipitation data in San Marcos, Texas, for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network. Its 20,000 volunteers nationwide measure and map precipitation for use by the NWS, utilities, insurance adjusters, and the US Department of Agriculture, among others.
No one needs a degree in meteorology to help, Mr. Runyon says. "All you need is an interest in weather and a desire to make a contribution to science."
Volunteers provide real-time data in extreme weather and also contribute to historical records that can be studied hundreds of years from now, Runyon says. "It's addictive."
To get involved, sign up on the group's website (www.cocorahs.org/Application.aspx), buy a $30 rain gauge, complete a short training session, and start measuring.
Below are some other opportunities for the general public to help track the effects of climate change:
National Weather Service Cooperative Observer Program – Some 11,000 volunteers collect both temperature and precipitation data where they live and work. The NWS takes on new observers on the basis of location and willingness to take measurements daily. To learn if NWS needs volunteers in your area, go to www.nws.noaa.gov/om/coop/become.htm.
Watch the Wild – Volunteers feed observations of local flora, fauna, and weather to the Watch the Wild database, run by the nonprofit group Nature Abounds. The data are then distributed to scientists and researchers. Visit www.natureabounds.org/Online_Access.html.
Mountain Watch – The Appalachian Mountain Club's network of volunteer mountain observers collects data on the flowering of plants, visibility of peaks, and air quality. To take a record sheet on your next Appalachian hike, go to www.outdoors.org/conservation/mountainwatch/index.cfm.
Citizen Science – An extensive list of opportunities to take part in scientific research – whether bird tracking, climate change, air quality, or plant life – is maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Visit www.birds.cornell.edu/citscitoolkit/projects/alphabetical.