Friday, August 29, 2014

Floating Forests

Floating Forests is one the newest Zooniverse projects. You are required to set up a username/password, but if you have already tried Seafloor Explorer or Snapshot Serengeti (previous citizen science features on the blog: here, here) then you already have a username!

Floating Forest entry screen
 In this citizen science project, they are utilizing satellite imagery to measure the density of giant kelp (Macrocystis proifera). Giant kelp is an incredible algae, it can grow up to a foot a day, hosts a wealth of biodiversity in and under its fronds, and most importantly (for this project) it can be seen from space. I learned to SCUBA dive in the kelp forests of California so this project hits close to home for me. I love spending my clicks on something that is actually helping a habitat I adore.

See the green in the ocean, that's the kelp!

According to their about page, the images provided are from the Landsat satellite's and were captured every 16 days since 1984. Needless to say, they have a lot of images! Since computer processing has proven to be tricky, human eyes and time are required to process all of these images. That's where you come in!

I have been playing around with Floating Forests for a few weeks, since they launched actually. The interface is very simple, just click and drag your mouse around any kelp you see, then hit the cloud button if there are clouds, and when finished click next image. One of the only annoyances I have is the amount of non-ocean images. Due to the way they get the photos, they have to be sliced up into squares and some of the squares will end up being nothing but landmass. There are also some where the cloud cover is too thick to see the surface of the Earth (and some of those photos are really neat) or where the satellite image was corrupted. This is to be expected with satellite imagery. Some days I get on and I hit a run of photos where I see kelp in almost every one for an hour, others I spend an hour and never see any kelp.

This is a nice way to pass the time and add to the scientific knowledge at the same time. It can get a little boring, so I do not recommend it for younger kids. But I do recommend showing them Blue Planet's Shallow Seas episode which features kelp forests. It is full of amazing videography, exposing the beauty and importance of these habitats.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this and other citizen science sites. Have you ever used one? Do you think they are good ideas?

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