Former AAFC student Gen Lindsay recruits new citizen scientist volunteers at the Ag in Motion trade show near Langham

Citizen scientists help with weather research

Citizens help scientists with weather research to bring more full area data, including areas of Ponoka.

If it wasn’t for eyewitness reports and individual citizens compiling weather information, the country’s agricultural experts wouldn’t be able to provide as much detailed information to farmers as is currently offered.

Called citizen science, or crowd-sourced science, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) collects and combines the information from around 2,000 traditional weather stations as well as from the thousands of amateur scientists across Canada to generate a wide variety of maps and statistical data. That significantly useful data is then processed into maps and other agroclimate information regarding conditions, events and impacts.

“Canadian geography and soil type can vary significantly in a short distance. One inch of rain over nearby locations with different soil types, vegetation, topography and drainage can result in very different impacts. A weather station gauge will tell you how much it rained, but it cannot tell you what the impacts are. A person can,” stated Patrick Cherneski, manager of AAFC’s National Agroclimate Information Service. Cherneski added people are far better than machines.

One such example regards measuring snowfall, which is particularly difficult to measure with automated weather and climate gauging stations. Snow can vary in density and does not fall uniformly into measuring devices, so having volunteer reporters doing daily measurements improves both the coverage and quality of what’s reported.

There are presently two citizen science collection programs AAFC is involved with the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) and the Agroclimate Impact Reporter (AIR).

CoCoRaHS started in Canada in 2011 and has trained volunteers take daily measurements, with their four-inch diameter rain gauge and a snow ruler, and then enter the results online through an interactive website. The aim is to provide high quality data for natural resource, education and research applications. AAFC uses the data to produce daily agroclimate maps on temperature, precipitation and other parameters, with rural areas with a low number of weather stations being especially valuable.

AIR began in 2013 and uses an easy online tool where volunteers report the impacts of weather and climatic events that affect agricultural decision-making. So, instead of numerical measurements, impacts are determined through standardized scale questions such as: To what degree do you anticipate livestock feed supply shortages over the winter? High, Medium, Low, Not At All.

Specific details to the questions can also be provided.

“In some respects, it is more important to know the impacts from conditions or events than to know the absolutes like how much it rained. There is no better source for impact information than those who live in the affected areas,” added Trevor Hadwen, AAFC agroclimate specialist.

AIR is most active on the prairies, with about 300 reporters, with efforts to increase numbers in other regions.

The goal of both programs is to make better decisions through better information for producers as well as for agribusiness, meteorologists, governments and the media. And, both programs are hoping to collect more volunteers.

For more information about the two citizen science programs or to become a part of the agroclimate collection movement, visit www.cocorahs.org/canada or www.agr.gc.ca/air.