We are very interested in how to engage communities in local environmental programs in order to raise awareness of what’s around them. In that line, for a few months we’ve been working on some geospatial mashups related to benthic macroinvertebrate monitoring programs in communities.
That is a lot of big words. What am I talking about exactly? Well, benthic macroinvertebrates are small organisms that feed on detritus and other tidbits in the water. They are extremely useful, and verified, indicators of water quality in streams and creeks due to their dependence on water quality. Some orders of these macroinvertebrates are tolerant to pollutants from runoff and other sources, while others die off quickly. By putting on some boots, wading in the water, stirring up the silt, and catching the results in a net placed just downstream, you can get a good sample of these critters, which when counted, can give a good indication of water quality in an area. You can see pics below of Ephemeroptera (mayflies) and Trichoptera (caddisflies), two important orders of benthic macroinvertebrates for water sampling.
Even more, while many environmental monitoring efforts are high-tech and require significant technology or training, monitoring for benthic macroinvertebrates is an easy skill to pick up. Across the country, thousands of community members volunteer their time and talent to wade, sift, and catch these critters. It is truly citizen-accessible science.
For us, the results of this citizen science should be as accessible to the community as possible. There are some other organizations that feel the same way, too. The central Virginia-based Streamwatch works with local government and civic organizations to monitor water quality around the Rivanna River basin, and they have one of the slickest websites around for publishing this data. Similarly, a New Jersey organization called IM Rivers helps communities to publish their water quality data in geospatial mashups. They have plenty of examples on their website in this regard.
We really like the work that they have done and are creating a few of our own. We have a beta site up and running that has a simple Google Maps mashup with easily accessible data for some 2009 samples. More will be coming in this regard, so stay tuned.
If you are interested in this work for your community, send us an email.