Citizen Science used in studying Seasonal Variation in India

The article was written by Rohin Daswani, who is a Research Assistant with the Commons Lab at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Climate change has started affecting many countries around the world. While every country is susceptible to the risks of global warming some countries, such as India, are especially vulnerable.

India’s sheer dependence on rainfall to irrigate its vast agricultural lands and to feed its economy makes it highly vulnerable to climate change. A report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts global temperature will increase between 0.3 and 4.8 degrees Celsius and sea levels will rise 82cm (32 in) by the late 21st century. But what effect will the changing rainfall pattern have on the seasonal variation?

One way to study seasonal variation in India is to analyze the changing patterns of flowering and fruiting of common trees like the Mango and Amaltas trees. SeasonWatch , a program part of the National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS), the biological wing of the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research, does exactly that. It is an India-wide program that studies the changing seasons by monitoring the seasonal cycles of flowering, fruiting and leaf flush of common trees. And how does it do that? It does it by utilizing the idea of Citizen Science. Anybody, be it children or adults, interested in trees and the effects of climate change can participate. All they have to do is register, select a tree near them and monitor it every week. The data is uploaded to a central website and is analyzed for changing patterns of plant life, and the effects of climate change on plant life cycle. The data is also open source so anyone can get access to it if they wish to. With all this information one could answer questions which were previously impossible to answer such as:

  • How does the flowering of Neem change across India?
  • Is fruiting of Tamarind different in different parts of the country depending on rainfall in the previous year?
  • Is year to year variation in flowering and fruiting time of Mango related to Winter temperatures?

Using Citizen Science and crowdsourcing, programs such as SeasonWatch have expanded the scope and work of conservation biology in various ecosystems across India. The program serves as an example of the extent to which Citizen Science and crowdsourcing can be used to understand and limit the effects of climate change and global warming around the word. While SeasonWatch just has 154 volunteers and 368 schools signed up currently, it is gaining traction. As it expands to different regions of the country, the data it collects will become even more useful to non-profits, municipalities and governmental agencies, who can use the information to study seasonal variation caused by global warming.

Dhau - Acacia Nilotica. Some of New Delhi's most beautiful trees that need help.
One of New Delhi’s most beautiful trees that need help. As SeasonWatch grows, such trees will get protection through the watchful eyes of India’s public. Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2015/07/12/delhi-native-trees-delhi-_n_7760466.html?ncid=fcbklnkinhpmg00000001
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