Citizens are these days an important source of environmental information. Citizens observe beyond the level of traditional monitoring networks and share their observations, opinions and ideas through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. These networks then become an asset of human sensed data, which can be used by governments, businesses and researchers.
Mobile phone apps to gather information
Apart from these generic forms of data and information gathering a wealth of dedicated mobile phone apps exist to gather environmental information and share it with the community as well as with authorities responsible for a proper functioning and a healthy environment such as municipalities and water boards. These dedicated observations may be less in quantities, but generally of higher quality and specific to topics of interest such as unusual water levels, e.g. high/low; water nuisance; flooding of streets; leakages; failure of dikes; drought; and poor water quality, e.g. blue algae. The FP7 project WeSenseIt started this initiative and on the basis of that initiative several calls from the European Commission focussing on citizen observatories followed, among which the coordination and support action WeObserve.
In present-day communities, people with similar interests gather, often online with the idea to learn and share around specific topics. An example is home growers (Hor2020 project GROW), where soil measurements are performed using standardized kits and soil moisture measurements are performed by citizens using sensors in their gardens. Another example is the exchange of rainfall measurement data by farmers using simple rain gauges, to be able and analyse water availability and drought; or other weather data by volunteers like in the WOW initiative of the MetOffice. Its observations range from qualitative monitoring of the weather to semi-professional monitoring using WMO-compliant weather stations.
A research project fully dedicated to the establishment of a large community of small holder farmers receiving weather information for optimising crop growth and volunteering to provide ground truth on weather observation is the Rain4Africa project of Netherlands Space Office. Here over 100,000 farmers are reached to exchange information on current and forecasted states of the environment and advice is given on optimum crop scheduling, planting, watering and harvesting.
Another citizen science initiative is Tahmo where weather information measured by volunteers and schools is shared, combined with satellite data and made available to farmers who then can better schedule all kinds of crop-growing activities. In this initiative as well as in others, improvements in crop production proves to yield 25% extra.
Recent advances in citizen science show that the blending of information sources such as monitoring stations, satellite information and atmospheric models creates new sets of big data which can be used for more accurate forecasting purposes, which allow business models to be developed to exploit information for better performance of sustainable and green cities adapting to climate change.
Citizens are involved
Moreover, citizens are involved in the monitoring chain by which they better understand the processes in the soil-water-atmosphere system, which helps them to contribute to the implementation of new technologies in their home yards as well as to the development of climate adaptive strategies. This is explored in the Hor2020 project GroundTruth 2.0. That project also delivered a scientific framework for citizen engagement which has been tested in Europe and Africa through demo cases.