Late last month, I had the pleasure of speaking to the fine students at the Exploration Science Program Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami. In a wide-ranging discussion about citizen science, led by the center’s director, Keene Haywood, Ph.D, we explored the state of citizen science and what may be in its future. The talk has been posted online at the Exploration Science Program’s site, and you can listen to the whole thing via SoundCloud.
Project: Penguin Watch
It’s cold in Antarctica. I mean really cold. The mean temperatures of the coldest months are −20 to −30 °C on the coast and −40 to −94 −40 to −70 °C in the interior; the best summer time temperature you can hope for on the coast is around 0°C. As you can imagine, it’s not an easy place to do research; in addition to the extreme temperatures and remoteness, it’s also very ecologically sensitive.
That’s why scientists want to make the most out of information collected from the region, and why they need your help. Luckily, you can do so from the warm comfort of your own home.
In a new project, Penguin Watch, you’re being asked to look at and annotate images taken of the area. You’ll be asked to identify eggs, baby penguins, and adult penguins. You will also mark other animals nearby, so that researchers get a good idea of how often they interact.
The photographs come from a network of 50 satellite-linked cameras along the Antarctic Peninsula, near colonies of Gentoo, Chinstrap, Adélie, and King penguins. In addition to providing annotations for researchers to work on in the short term, your efforts here will help train image-processing algorithms, so that computers will be able to do this job in the future.
This is a Zooniverse project, so if you have already participated in things like Ancient Lives, Whale FM, or Old Weather, you already have a login. If not, register here to go get some happy feet, and not cold feet!
Even before the Indiana Jones movies came out, archeology had broad popular appeal. The tools of the trade seemed simple, and the possibilities it held out (Maybe I’ll find a fortune in treasure! Maybe I will make a famous discovery!) were seductive. Add to the mix the allure of exotic destinations, and you have a hard-to-resist package. I am sure that archeology departments worldwide were inundated with calls from Jones wannabes after that first movie hit the silver screen.
Of course, in this now Internet-connected day and age, we (should) know that the reality is a lot different. Genuine archeology involves a lot of slow, painstaking work, and it is far more likely to yield potsherds than it is gold and gems. That said, archeology remains fascinating because it involves the discovery and telling of our favourite story: our own.
So, if you’ve always been interested in archeology, there are several ways you can get involved, even if you haven’t yet been formally trained.
Learn about archeology
A site called Archeology Expert is a great place to start. A good, concise, all-around resource on the field, it explains the history and types of archeology, and has a section on theory and terminology. There is even has a section on how to get into archeology as a hobby.
Meanwhile, Coursera is offering a MOOC on archeology called Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets, which talks about the field, what’s involved, and dispels some myths. And this portal lists a number of other free archeology courses, some broad, some very specific.
If you really want to get serious about your archeology education, there are a number of accredited distance learning options available. The Council for British Archeology lists several options here.
Believe it or not, there are actually quite a few popular magazines solely devoted to archeology. There’s Archeology Magazine, World Archeology, Popular Archeology, British Archeology, and even one for kids called Dig Magazine.
In the US, there’s an organization called the American Society for Amateur Archeologists, which offers a journal in which you could be published, occasional expeditions for fieldwork, and several books of interest laymen scholars. You can even get amateur certification via a National Park Service program.
Go on an archeology dig
Once you’ve worked your way through the material above, it might be time to participate in real expeditions as a volunteer. For example, the Archaeological Fieldwork Opportunities Bulletin (AFOB) is one of the largest fieldwork resources in the world, and has hundreds of listings for archaeological projects.
Of course, amateur archeology is not for the faint of heart or the arachnophobe, as digging often means disturbing large and possibly venomous creatures, as this post suggests. If you would prefer to contribute to the field without getting bitten or dirty, you might consider some of the history related Zooniverse projects like Ancient Lives.