Citizen Science – iNaturalist

The internet and digital photography have opened up wonderful opportunities for ordinary people to get involved in citizen science as observers of the natural world. Online meeting places and forums come and go but the best at the moment seems to be iNaturalist – https://www.inaturalist.org.

It’s a global project and the numbers are huge: 54 million observations by 1.4 million observers from nearly every country in the world when I looked recently. That presents a management problem, of course, which is solved by having countries run independent branches, e.g. https://inaturalist.ala.org.au/

Anyone at all can browse the content of the site but people have to sign up to participate. When that’s done (at no cost and very little trouble) they can upload their observations, help with identifying others’ observations, and join the discussion forums.  It’s a big and complex site but not too difficult to negotiate because it is exceptionally well planned and because there is no need to use most of its functions until you want to. (I have to admit there are some that I haven’t bothered with in the year I have been a member.)

And ordinary people can make very useful contributions to the project, especially if they (we) are outside the big cities. It’s obvious, looking at a map of Australian observations of butterflies and moths, that any life outside the big population centres is under-represented. Zoom in on North Queensland and the pattern is even clearer – and it’s the same for birds, and will be the same for all other life forms.

iNaturalist observations
iNaturalist observations – Butterflies and Moths

This means that if you visit Mount Fox, Undara, Einasleigh, or even Ravenswood and submit an observation of any species at all it is likely to be a ‘first’ for the location. We really don’t know what’s out there – and how can we look after what we don’t know?

Other projects

Encyclopedia of Life is a similar but older project. It welcomed citizen scientists from the outset but was almost overwhelmed by them for a while and now is primarily an inter-organisational data sharing project.

Atlas of Living Australia was a founding partner of EOL and now collects observations from iNaturalist. It is an open-access data resource, oriented more to the professional community than to citizen science.

BowerBird was founded in 2013 as a citizen science project of Museums Victoria and ALA but was folded into iNaturalist about 2019.

flickr is a photo-sharing platform which hosts self-managed Groups, some of which are wildlife-related. I joined (years ago) so that I could easily contribute to EOL (which collected sightings via one such group) but also enjoyed the Field Guide to Insects of Australia and the similar Australian Birds and Spiders groups. Each of them had (and probably still has) enthusiastic, knowledgeable members willing to encourage and support newcomers.

There’s no need to be bored!

A very small problem

Sitting at my computer a few days ago, I was distracted by a tiny bug moving around on the screen. My first impulse was to identify it, and the way it moved, its body shape and what I could guess of its leg-count all said, “spider, not insect.”

My next impulse was to remove it without harming it, and this is the point at which things got really interesting: I discovered that it wasn’t on the screen at all, but inside it. That, naturally (for me, at least) called for a photograph. Out came the camera and the macro lens …

spider on computer screen
The distraction

But that was a problem, too, because photographing anything small, moving, poorly lit, obscured by its surroundings, or under glass is a challenge, and this was all five.

Let’s deal with the questions one at a time. Continue reading “A very small problem”

Home solar update after seven years

The rooftop PV system we installed seven years ago has just passed another good round number – 16 000 KWh – having produced 4 000 KWh since my last update, in September 2016.

The daily average in that period is therefore 5.9 KWh/day, a little lower than the average of the first five years.  The drop in output is so small that it’s not really worth worrying about but three explanations come to mind, and all may have contributed to it:

  • We don’t bother cleaning the panels, so full-sun output may have dropped;
  • Our trees have kept on growing, so the panels may be shaded for longer, especially in winter;
  • The period we are considering includes two full Wet seasons but not quite two full Dry seasons (the month-by-month variation is shown here).

How much money are we saving now?

Continue reading “Home solar update after seven years”

Are rainwater tanks useful in Townsville?

Townsville’s ongoing drought has encouraged many of us, especially the keen gardeners, to think seriously about bores, grey water systems and rainwater tanks. This post attempts to arrive at a credible answer to the first question we must ask about tanks: are they even useful?

We have been hearing from two schools of thought on the question for as long as we have been in Townsville, more than 25 years: “Yes, of course!” and “No! The dry season is so long and so dry that no tank will last through it.” One group must be wrong, and the only way to find out is to crunch a few numbers. Continue reading “Are rainwater tanks useful in Townsville?”

Renewable energy update

Green Path tries to keep up with what’s happening in the renewable energy sphere, since it’s so important to our battle against global warming, but so much is happening that we don’t often pause to take stock. Fortunately, the Climate Council has done that for us, producing a report, Fully Charged: Renewables and Storage Powering Australia. 

Its key points are:

  • The cost of lithium-ion batteries has fallen by 80% since 2010. Costs are expected to halve again by 2025 (under 7 years).
  • 6,750 new household batteries were installed in 2016. The market is predicted to have tripled in size in 2017, with over 20,000 new installations.
  • Renewable energy now represents 16% of Australia’s electricity generation.
  • VIC, QLD and the NT are also investing in grid scale battery storage technology.
  • Federal, QLD and TAS governments are also considering developing pumped hydro projects.
  • The Australian electricity grid (NEM) and old fossil fuelled power stations are increasingly vulnerable to worsening extreme weather events, particularly as these power stations age.
  • More than 50% of Australia’s coal fleet will be over 40 years old by 2030.
  • Australia could reach 50% renewables by 2030 without significant new energy storage.

That is (nearly) all very good news, of course, but we need to keep it in perspective: 50% by 2030 is good but, globally, we need to reach zero carbon emissions before 2050 to avoid the worst of climate change, so there is still much more to be done. Continue reading “Renewable energy update”