iSeeChange Partners Track Signs of an Unpredictable Spring

Crowdsourced climate news project expands across the nation

When has spring actually sprung? The citizen scientists of the iSeeChange project have been spotting early indicators for weeks. Following on the heels of record-setting weather, including the hottest year on the books in the west and icebox conditions in the east, these observations raise new and puzzling questions.

iSeeChange is a groundbreaking environmental reporting project that combines crowdsourced public media, perspectives from experts and cutting-edge satellite monitoring of environmental conditions.

Incubated in 2013 by Executive Producer Julia Kumari Drapkin in western Colorado via AIR’s Localore project, iSeeChange is poised to expand across the US in 2015. The team will work with media and scientific partners across the country to help audiences document hyperlocal environmental shifts and connect them to bigger-picture trends and climate fluctuations.

“Ideally, the goal is to create a space where you can tune into how the planet is changing right in your own back yard, “ explains Drapkin. “It’s the little changes — the details we see on our regular walks,  in our homes, the small talk at the post office or the corner store — that can add up to big big differences. We want to provide the context that allows users to make sense of the environmental shifts that are having a real impact on their lives and livelihoods.”

Right now, the project’s core is the iSeeChange Almanac, which invites participants to submit text, photos, audio, and videos documenting the changes they’re experiencing and the questions they have for scientists. However, a growing array of media and science partners are now working to answer those questions and expand the project, including:  

  • Yale Climate Connections, which will be broadcasting shorter versions of iSeeChange stories from partners to its national audience
  • The Allegheny Front in Western Pennsylvania, which is kicking off with an interview and reaching out to local community groups about changes they’ve seen this season.
  • WWOZ in New Orleans will begin running promos about coastal change in Louisiana in early April.
  • Developing Radio Partners, which will be joining forces with RANET (Radio and Internet for the Communication of Hydro-Meteorological Information), and using iSeeChange to document changes with farmers in Zambia.

Drapkin has also begun interviews with scientists based on questions from iSeeChange users. "It's no question it's an unusual year. We really do have a tale of two countries." says Toby Ault, who directs Cornell University’s Emergent Climate Risk Lab, in reference to extreme warm observations being reported on the iSeeChange Almanac in the west and extreme cold and precipitation in the east resulting from this winter’s jet stream patterns. 

"Is that being caused by climate change? That's the million dollar question. Probably not...but maybe. That's not a very satisfying answer, but while the scientific community sorts that out, we can ask 'Ok, what can we learn from this impact? How do people on either end of the country adapt to these two extremes?'"

Whatever the season brings, the iSeeChange team will be working over the next few months to update the Almanac and surface more stories. AIR is providing additional support for the KVNF partnership and the project’s expansion through its New Enterprise Fund for Storymakers with funding from the Wyncote Foundation. As summer approaches, the team is also working with NASA to develop a related app to help synchronize local citizen climate reports with satellite data on regional carbon levels and solar-induced fluorescence.

Combining these two perspectives—a granular view from the ground with a global view of the earth from space—offers an unprecedented opportunity to match big science with daily life.

This week on iSeeChange...

Kate from Pittsburgh, Sara from Ohio and B. Rucki from Elk County all posted bird sightings.  Both Stephen from Boalsburg and Aaron posted that they’ve seen ticks this month.  Aaron asked what this winter’s extreme cold will mean for tick populations.  To answer his question, we turned to Stephen Jacobs, urban entomologist from Penn State. Jacobs says extremely cold temperatures may knock back populations of some tick species -- but not all.

 "You have species such as the Deer Tick, the little black tick that transmits Lyme Disease, that are accustomed to cold, particularly when there is snow on the ground," he says. "Snow acts like an insulator and protects them from the severest of the temperatures, such as we had this winter," he says.

So Jacobs doesn’t expect any adverse impacts on Deer Ticks from this winter’s cold temperatures.  And he says despite fact that Pennsylvania has more cases of Lyme Disease than any other state, no one is out there monitoring tick populations. 

If you have a weather or climate related question, go to iseechange.org and share your observations, photos, video. Anything to help us tell this year’s climate story.

For interviews or further information, contact Julia Kumari Drapkin: julia@iseechange.org