Below is a brief overview of some of the exciting citizen science projects already underway in the polar tourism industry. Whether you are just getting started and interested in trailing a project, or are ready to manage your own robust citizen science initiative, we can tailor a program to suit your needs. 

If you are a polar guide, this information as well as additional resource materials are available in the ‘Supporting Science’ section of IAATO’s Field Operations Manual. Please let us know if you plan to initiate a citizen science project on board so we can inform the relevant scientific organization, follow along with your efforts and provide assistance as required.

To learn more about these projects and others currently being developed, get in touch


Cloud Observations (NASA)

Clouds affect how much sunlight is being absorbed by the earth and how much heat is escaping back into space. By observing and recording cloud cover timed to NASA satellite fly-overs, we can help scientists understand how surface and air temperature are affected by cloud cover, and how clouds will respond to a changing climate.

Scientific Partner

NASA GLOBE Observer

equipment required

Smartphone with free GLOBE Observer app (iPhone & Android) Use referral code: polartourism

training

Basic online training in observation protocols and cloud types, and familiarization with GLOBE Observer app

resources required

One dedicated staff member. The satellite overpass schedule is created by The Polar Collective team and can be emailed to you prior to your season and throughout as updates become available. Observations require 10-15 minutes 1-2 times per day on sea days, or more or less depending on the availability of your team and schedule. All observations are stored offline in the app and uploaded quickly when on wifi. 

the takeaway

This project does not require an expertise in atmospherics and is equally valuable in the Arctic as in the Antarctic. It's a great way to get your guests out on deck during sea days. 


Seabird Surveys (Antarctic Site Inventory)

By conducting bird surveys while at sea or on shore, we can help scientists begin to understand meso-scale (within tens of kilometers) seabird distribution patterns and habitat usage in the Southern Ocean.

scientific partners

Stony Brook University and eBird

equipment required

Ability to print bird survey checklists, scan and email the completed surveys to Stony Brook University

training

An experienced ornithologist should lead the surveys to ensure accuracy counting and species identifications

resources required

One ornithologist to lead the surveys and an additional staff member to assist. Surveys conducted in randomly chosen 15-60 minute periods during sea days in the Southern Ocean. At least one survey per sea day is preferable. At the end of the season or intermittently on turnaround days, scan and email completed surveys to Stony Brook University.

the takeaway

Seabird surveys are a guest-favorite as it's a chance to work in a small group with the ornithologist. Similar to GLOBE Observer, seabird surveys are a great way to get your guests out on deck with their binoculars and identifying and recording species can easily be used as an educational tool. 


Secchi Disk - The Global Seafarer Study of Marine Phytoplankton

Phytoplankton is at the base of the marine food chain. Their distribution, composition and abundance are altering as the oceans are affected by climate change. The Secchi Depth – defined as the depth when the Secchi Disk disappears from sight when lowered vertically into the seawater from a stationary boat - measures the clarity of sea water, which is influenced by the amount of phytoplankton in the water column.

scientific partner

The Secchi Disk Foundation

equipment required

A self-made Secchi Disk and a smartphone with GPS capability, and the Secchi app (iPhone and Android)

resources required

One dedicated staff member to lower the Secchi Disk, or assist guests in lowering the disk over the side of a stationary Zodiac and measure the Secchi Depth. One lowering takes approx. 5 minutes. Data is entered and stored offline in the Secchi app and can be uploaded when on wifi.

the takeaway

While this project has worked well when paired with phytoplankton sampling, it can easily succeed on its own as part of a "Citizen Science Zodiac Cruise" and offers guests a hands-on way to learn about the marine food chain. 


Happywhale

Our expedition vessels can assist in tracking individual whales throughout our world’s oceans. By harnessing the power of millions of whale watching enthusiasts, Happywhale is expanding our scientific knowledge of their behavior and distribution. Simply encourage guides, guests and crew to set their cameras to local time, capture photos of whale sightings and upload to happywhale.com.

 

scientific partners

Cascadia Research Collective & Allied Whale

equipment required

Camera and internet connection to upload images

resources required

One staff member required to introduce Happywhale project and image guidelines to guests and to remind guests following whale encounters. Staff, crew and guests are encouraged to create a personal Happywhale account and with a strong Internet connection, to upload high-res photos (as many as possible) to happywhale.com and include the name of the vessel the whale was viewed from.

the takeaway

An easy win for any operator wishing to participate in citizen science and provides an easy way for guests to subscribe to "follow" the whales sighted during their cruise. This open-source database is experiencing season-on-season growth and we're thrilled to support it. 


FjordPhyto Phytoplankton Sampling

FjordPhyto is a citizen science project relying on data collected by Antarctic travelers as they visit various fjords along the Antarctic Peninsula throughout the austral summer. By collecting phytoplankton throughout the entire summer season, citizen scientists can help researchers understand how melted glacial water can influence and change the population of phytoplankton in fjords and what impact this might have on the polar coastal ecosystem.

scientific partners

Lead scientist Allison Lee, Vernet Lab at Scripps Institution of Oceanography

training and equipment required

FjordPhyto requires (2-3) of pre-season training to become familiar with the equipment and sampling methods. The leading expedition staff member is asked to schedule a call with scientist Allison Lee. In-person training with Allison or an expedition staff with prior experience is best to assure project success. All equipment needed for this project (phytoplankton net, filtering device, etc.) is provided by Allison.

the takeaway

This is a highly interactive and rewarding citizen science project which is well-suited to dedicated “Citizen Science Zodiac Cruises” due to the time involved. Collected samples will contribute to the PhD projects of two graduate students investigating how glacial meltwater influences phytoplankton communities along the Antarctic Peninsula. This project also has a productive feedback loop with the researchers processing the data and sending updates and results to the expedition staff/participating company prior to each subsequent season.


Sea Ice Observations

This mostly Arctic-based project helps to understand and track the progression of the melt of sea ice in summer. We collect observations of the age, type and topography of sea ice and submit it to the open source Ice Watch ASSIST Data Network.

scientific partners

International Arctic Research Center's Ice Watch, Thayer School of Engineering, Norwegian Ice Service

equipment required

ASSIST (Arctic Shipborne Sea Ice Standardization Tool) software

training

Significant training with experts in sea ice identification and observation protocols is required, as is familiarization with the ASSIST software

resources required

2 dedicated staff members. Quite extensive preparation is required for studying and training in sea ice identification, ideally months prior to a season start. The sea ice observations are approximately 30 minutes each and timed to flyovers of the NPP, AQUA and TERRA satellites, as many as is possible when navigating through sea ice. Data is uploaded to Ice Watch's ASSIST data network and associated photos/video are delivered to the supervising Ice Watch advisor. We would be happy to talk you through exactly what is required for this ambitious but highly valuable project. 

the takeaway

A complex project that requires extensive training pre-season and is best suited to icebreaker cruises.