What is Citizen Science?

Scientific research is essential to understand the challenges of climate change facing pristine regions like the Arctic and Antarctica, but conducting scientific research can be hugely costly and time-consuming. That's where you, and citizen science programs, come in.

  • The travel industry brings thousands of visitors to the polar regions, with huge potential for researchers to use this footfall to gather data.
  • On certain ​Antarctic ​voyages, guest​s​ can participate and collaborate in scientific research projects.
  • Research focuses on five major disciplines: Oceanography, Glaciology, Ornithology, Marine Biology and Meteorology.
  • The data collected ​helps ​directly contribute to a better understanding of climate change and how it's affecting the polar regions.

What citizen science projects can volunteers do?

Cloud observations (with NASA)

Clouds affect how much sunlight is being absorbed by the earth and how much heat is escaping back into space.

For this study, you will observe and record cloud cover timed to NASA satellite fly-overs, helping scientists understand how surface and air temperature are affected by cloud cover, and how clouds will respond to a changing climate.

© Photo credited to the Polar Citizen Science Collective

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Seabird surveys

This study involves conducting bird surveys at sea and on shore, helping scientists to understand meso-scale (within tens of kilometres) seabird distribution patterns and habitat usage in the Southern Ocean.

Often a favourite of polar travellers, conducting these surveys means working in small groups with an ornithologist, and being out on deck with your binoculars.

Happywhale

By tracking individual whales throughout the world’s oceans, this study is expanding our scientific knowledge of the whales’ behaviour and distribution.

You are encouraged to capture photos of whale sightings and upload them, recording when and where the photos were taken, to happywhale.com. When you get home, you can even 'follow' the whales you spot during your cruise as they migrate throughout the year.

© Photo credited to Hugh Rose

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Study of marine phytoplankton

This study helps scientists understand how the distribution, composition and abundance of phytoplankton are altering as the oceans are affected by climate change.

You will use a Secchi Disk to record the Secchi Depth – the depth when the Secchi Disk disappears from sight when lowered vertically into the seawater from a stationary boat. The study offers participants a unique insight into the marine food chain.

FjordPhyto phytoplankton sampling

Melted glacial water can influence and change the population of phytoplankton in fjords – this study is helping researchers understand what impact this might have on the polar coastal ecosystem.

You will collect phytoplankton as you visit various fjords along the Antarctic Peninsula throughout the austral summer.

© Photo credited to Allison Cusick

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Sea ice observations

This mostly Arctic-based study helps scientists understand and track the progression of the melt of sea ice in summer. You will observe the age, type and topography of sea ice, while navigating through it.

Penguin watch

This is the only study you can get involved with from anywhere in the world! Scientists have placed time-lapse cameras around penguin colonies across Antarctica.

These cameras take many images each day, recording the numbers of penguins and giving vital information about declining penguin numbers. You can help scientists process the vast amounts of data by counting penguins in images on the Penguin Watch website.

© Photo credited to the Polar Citizen Science Collective

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Swoop Says

The Polar Citizen Science Collective

The Polar Citizen Science Collective facilitates ship-based citizen science programmes in the polar regions. It was founded in 2015 by five expedition guides including friends-of-Swoop Bob Gilmore, who helps co-ordinate programs on expedition ships, and Ted Cheeseman, founder of happywhale.com. Together, they saw an opportunity to involve guests in scientific research. 

The collective argue that their education programs help create ambassadors, 'committed, enthusiastic and action-oriented travelers who will return home to champion for the protection of the polar regions'. 

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What impact can citizen science make on the climate crisis?

The Antarctic is a critical part of the Earth’s climate system and a sensitive barometer of climate change. Understanding how the polar regions are responding to climate change is essential for monitoring change and predicting future changes.

Many scientific studies tracking trends rely on ‘big data’, which is exactly what citizen science can supply - the global eBird project, for example, run by the Cornell University Ornithology Lab, received over 3 million data sets from citizen scientists in 2015. By giving policy makers and politicians accurate information, these scientific studies can inform conservation efforts and policies. 

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