Outreach activities are an important aspect of current research. It raises awareness of the problem studied and promotes the research that is being done. Citizen Science is one option to attract public’s attention. While Citizen Science projects are well-known in biology, for example in bird counting studies, it has not been widely applied in hydrology or hydrochemistry. Though water resources and their quality are a hot topic! Particularly, when water quality is deteriorating. On smaller scales, water quality is often related to spills resulting from accidents or focused point sources inputs. Large scale changes are more difficult to detect, as inputs are diffuse. For example changes in agricultural management might increase nitrate concentrations in streams. A large number of samples are needed to reveal such spatial dependencies.

A recent study on nitrogen solutes in surface waters of Germany was realized by a large crowd sampling event. Students enrolled in Environmental Management from the Justus Liebig University were asked to participate in this citizen science experiment. Water samples across Germany were taken in 2013 on October 3, a public holiday and were then returned to the laboratory for subsequent analyses. We showed that handling such a large crowd can successfully support spatial sampling. Water quality on the sampling date was in agreement with results from a long term monitoring that is continuously carried out by state agencies. Surprisingly, organic nitrogen solutes contributed significantly to the overall nitrogen concentrations – on average around 20%. Organic nitrogen is often overlooked in water quality studies which mainly consider nitrate and ammonium. Interested? Have a look at the open source publication in Scientific Reports!

Breuer L, Hiery N, Kraft P, Bach M, Aubert AH, Frede H-G. 2015. HydroCrowd: a citizen science snapshot to assess the spatial control of nitrogen solutes in surface waters. Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/srep16503

Posted on behalf of Lutz Breuer