Research

The Value of Citizen Science

Some time ago, observers and scientists noticing declining bird populations began to worry. One of those concerned was ornithologist Frank Chapman—an officer at the Audubon Society—who proposed something he thought would help: a new holiday tradition he called a “Christmas Bird Census.” That was in the year 1900.

For more than a hundred years, moms, dads, sons, and daughters have braved the elements and traveled to nearby conservation land or refuges and eagerly watched backyard feeders to participate in the Christmas Bird Count—and to contribute to conservation. To this day, the data collected by these citizen scientists inform researchers of the health of bird populations.

Citizen science isn’t a fresh idea. It’s tried and proven, and we’ve been at it for generations. But times have changed. Cell phones are equipped with high-resolution cameras. Low-cost sensors and GPS are readily available. And the internet sits at our fingertips in an increasingly interconnected world. These technologies have widened the boundaries and increased the value of citizen science in the 21st century.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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30 Years of “GROwth”

One of my favorite parts of my job serving as the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development is interacting on a daily basis with some of the top career scientists and engineers in their fields. On any given day, I get to discuss science with the very people who over the past few decades have helped the Agency achieve milestones in protecting the nation’s air and water, cleaning up our environment, and advancing public health.

On a personal level, these researchers help keep me energized and remind us of the excitement and possibility that led us to pursue public service in the first place. Understanding the impact a scientist can have on improving our environment and our health makes it all the more crucial to support the next generation of environmental scientists and engineers through programs such as the Agency’s Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) Fellowship program.

EPA announced today more than $1.65 million in research fellowships to 33 undergraduate students at 30 different colleges and universities pursuing degrees in environmental studies through GRO.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Advancing Children’s Environmental Health: Our Best Investment

Children image for Lek blog 10.30.13Anyone who has ever enjoyed watching a toddler explore their world knows that along with that marvelous sense of discovery comes potential trouble. Young children crawl around on the floor, play in the dirt, and don’t hesitate to retrieve a wayward cookie or other delectable treat hidden among the dust bunnies underneath the couch—and pop it straight into their mouth.

Behaviors like these, as well as their smaller bodies and still developing internal systems, make children more vulnerable to pollution and other environmental risks than us adults. That’s why we here at EPA make protecting children’s health a top priority.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Help Us Map Environmental Justice Conflicts in the United States

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By Alejandro Colsa, Bernadette Grafton, Katy Hintzen, and Sara Orvis

As students at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment we consider ourselves lucky to be part of an institution that has played a major role in the historic evolution of the United States environmental justice movement. Coming from different backgrounds, the four of us have found environmental justice to be a unifying passion.

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Click to find out more about the EJOLT Project

When we first encountered the Environmental Justice Organizations, Liability and Trade (EJOLT) project we recognized its potential to further global collaboration among EJ activists and scholars. The EJOLT project allows us to explore a wide array of environmental justice issues, giving us a richer understanding of what environmental justice is and how it’s been manifested in the United States. At the same time, EJOLT provides us with the opportunity to be part of an exciting new movement towards increased international collaboration in environmental justice.

EJOLT is an international project that aims to map environmental justice conflicts around the world. EJOLT has reported on and analyzed environmental conflicts in more than 60 countries, including India, Ecuador, Mexico, and South Africa. Cases like the Map of Environmental Injustices in Turkey have made headlines in mainstream media. However, environmental justice cases in the U.S. have not yet been integrated into this international effort.

With the help of our two academic advisors, Professor Rebecca Hardin and Professor Paul Mohai, we reached out to the EJOLT project coordinator Professor Joan Martinez Alier and offered to spearhead an effort to identify and analyze 40 influential U.S. environmental justice case studies to contribute to EJOLT.

This is where we need your help! Choosing 40 case studies to represent the environmental justice movement and its historical development in the United States is a monumental task. We decided to create a public survey that engages the wider U.S. environmental justice community and harnesses the expertise of scholars, activists, and citizens like you to help determine which case studies are included in this database.

We need your help identifying which conflicts should be included in this project. If you would like to participate, please fill out our 5-to-10 minute survey. When answering the following questions, please keep in mind that we are not asking you to rank the case studies. All of the case studies have been divided into 10 categories defined by EJOLT.  Each category also provides an option to write-in any case studies that are not in this survey, but you feel should be included.

In order to make the survey shorter and more manageable, we have created two survey options. If you were born on a day ending with an even number please use this survey link, and if you were born on a day ending with an odd number please use this survey link. The survey will only be open through August 23rd, so make sure and take soon. Thanks for your collaboration!

About the authors:

Alejandro Colsa is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan SNRE specializing in Environmental Justice. After spending some years learning how Environmental Justice is understood and studied in Europe, this Spanish graduate student has received a Fulbright scholarship to conduct research and study how the environmental justice movement was originated in the United States and how it can be framed within the broader and more international environmental justice movement, paying special attention to the role played by strong community activism.

Bernadette Grafton is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan SNRE specializing in Behavior, Education, and Communication. She has a strong interest in brownfield redevelopment and community engagement that has led her to an understanding of the tight relationship between brownfields and environmental justice issues, primarily because of the location of many brownfield sites.   

Katy Hintzen is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan SNRE specializing in Environmental Policy and Planning and Environmental Justice. Her interest in studying the intersections between public policy and community activism stem from her time as a Peace Corps volunteer working on environmental conservation issues in the Ecuadorian Amazon.        

Sara Orvis is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan SNRE specializing in Environmental Justice. She is interested in the unique problems associated with rural environmental justice especially surrounding Indian Nations culture and traditions and the government to government relationships affect the mitigation of environmental justice sources. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Innovating our Way to a Cleaner Future

The history of environmental protection in the United States is a history of innovation. From catalytic converters to advanced batteries, technological innovations have helped us protect our health and environment by reducing pollution.

With that history in mind, today EPA announced more than $2 million in contracts to seven small businesses to develop sustainable technologies that can help protect our environment. EPA’s funding will support technologies ranging from an E-waste recycling process that will help recover valuable resources from industrial scrap to an environmentally friendly insulation that can support energy efficiency in green buildings.

One company receiving SBIR funding is developing an efficient and low-cost manufacturing method to recycle rare earth-based magnets from industrial scrap.

One company receiving SBIR funding is developing an efficient and low-cost manufacturing method to recycle rare earth-based magnets from industrial scrap.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Injecting Knowledge to Cure Injustice

By Dr. Sacoby Wilson

Growing up in Vicksburg, Mississippi, I had a fondness of the Big River and the love of the environment.  Unfortunately, I was aware that some communities did not enjoy the same level of environmental quality that others did.  I grew up near a concrete plant, waste water treatment plant, oil facility, and power plant in the background.  My father was a pipefitter who over the years worked at nuclear power plants, oil refineries, coal fired plants and was exposed to many contaminants.  These experiences, combined with my diagnosis at age 7 with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease, really drove me to explore why some communities were burdened by hazards and unhealthy land uses and how exposure to environmental stressors can lead to negative health outcomes.

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I was inspired to use my interest in science and environmental health for environmental justice after meeting Drs. Benjamin Chavis and Robert Bullard in the early 1990s. These professors taught me the value of getting out of the ivory towers of academia and getting into communities to spread knowledge to push for positive change. Since then, I have been a passionate advocate for environmental justice working in partnership with community groups across the United States. Through this work, I have learned that the use of science to empower through education, paired with community organizing and civic engagement, is the key to alleviating environmental injustices.

One of those individuals who helped me understand the importance of getting communities into the research process was Omega Wilson.  Wilson’s Group, the West End Revitalization Association (WERA) has  fought against environmental injustice, infrastructure disparities, and the lack of basic amenities for the last twenty years.  WERA leaders have used a community-driven research approach known as community-owned and managed research (COMR) to address environmental injustice in their community.  COMR focuses on the collection of data for action, compliance, and social change.  In combination with EPA’s collaborative-problem-solving model, WERA’s work provides a blueprint for other communities to use partnerships, stakeholder engagement, action-oriented research, and legal tools to achieve environmental justice.

Untitled-2As a professor who learned through my mentors, I also firmly believe in inspiring the next generation of academics to take their tools and research into communities that need it the most. Currently, I am building a program on Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health (CEEJH) at the University of Maryland-College Park. CEEJH is building off existing work of leaders in the DC Metropolitan region to address environmental justice and health issues at the grassroots level; we use community-university partnerships, capacity-building, and community empowerment to address environmental justice and health issues in the Chesapeake Bay region.  Following in the footsteps of WERA, I plan to inspire young people to be bold, courageous, and become advocates for environmental justice.

About the author: Dr. Wilson is an environmental health scientist with expertise in environmental justice and environmental health disparities. His primary research interests are related to issues that impact underserved, socially and economically disadvantaged, marginalized, environmental justice, and health disparity populations. He is building a Program on Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health (CEEJH) to study and address health issues for environmental justice and health disparity populations through community-university partnerships and the use of CBPR in Maryland and beyond.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science to Decisions from the OSV Bold

By Jeanethe Falvey

This week, scientists from EPA, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, University of New England, and the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve completed a water sampling effort along the southern coast of New England. Why?

Many asked when we were in Ipswich Bay off Essex, Massachusetts. We were thrilled that boaters took interest to the big blue ship; cautiously, but curiously approaching when we stopped to send down equipment. During boat to boat conversations from the back deck, they said they had never seen anything like the Bold before. It was a great opportunity to explain firsthand what we were doing, and why we have this research ship. When I said we were sampling water quality along the coastline they asked, “Is it ok for swimming?”

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"OSV Bold uses a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) to measure water samples at different depths."

I explained for swimming yes. We were looking for something less obvious, sampling the bottom, middle, and surface depths further offshore compared to estuaries, or bays, more geographically enclosed areas where rivers and streams meet the sea. In this confluence of environments where fresh water sources and land meet the ocean, are there specific indications showing that our land-based activities are having too much of a negative impact in the coastal environment? Too much would mean that the natural environment can’t cope with the influx of pollutants and runoff from land. Examples of this can be algal blooms, or “fish kills.” More obvious to many would be closed beach days due to bacterial pollution in the water, that’s always from our sewage and runoff too.

This is why for the third year, we sampled for nutrients, specifically, phosphorus and nitrogen, and also for chlorophyll (plant matter in the ocean). Nutrients (commonly found in fertilizers, as an example) help plants grow. Excess amounts can cause algal overgrowth and deteriorate natural conditions, sometimes to the point where fish and other sea life cannot survive.

If we see trends from something specific like nutrients, then we hope to better inform decisions made on land: encouraging SmartGrowth and sustainable development, better sewage treatment, or generally raising awareness about more environmentally conscious day to day activities.

The Bold isn’t just an ocean going research vessel, it’s one of our best tools to study our natural world and use that science to inform how we protect our environment.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, U.S. EPA Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, based in Boston, Massachusetts.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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OSV BOLD:Day 1 – July 30th – Wrap Up

The sun set around 7:45, and my first shift began! Sporting a bright orange vest and hard hat, my team helped to deploy the CTD off the starboard side of the BOLD just off Cape Ann in Gloucester, MA.

In this first day (and a half day at that) we were able to sample 7 stations!  Chlorophyll samples are being sent to EPA New England’s laboratory on land in Chelmsford, MA.

Stations labeled “R1…” are located on the Captain’s Log page. New Stations have the latitude and longitude.

At a bit past midnight, my shift ended and we were on course to New Hampshire’s coast. Said, “hello and goodnight” to my roomie who caught the tough shift, she will get back to the room around 4 am.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring!

Jeanethe Falvey works in EPA’s Boston office.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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OSV BOLD Tweets Its Way Up the New England Coast

Hi there! Each day thousands of people are working at EPA to help clean up our environment. I’m one of the lucky few that gets to see how this work is done out on the ocean! My name is Jeanethe Falvey, I’m 24 years old and have worked for EPA for just over two years since I graduated from Bates College in 2007. This week, from July 30 – August 6, I will be onboard the OSV BOLD, EPA’s only ocean research ship. Scientists will be studying the health of New England’s coastline from Boston Harbor to Penobscot Bay in Maine, and I’m here to help show you what life is like onboard the ship. Learn more at http://www.epa.gov/ne/boldkids/ and follow me on Twitter @epalive!

Jeanethe Falvey works in EPA’s Boston office.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: On Board the OSV Bold

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Doug Pabst is the chief scientist for the OSV BOLD’s Puerto Rico voyage. He leads the dredging, sediments and oceans team in EPA Region 2, comprising New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Gone Fishin’

Feb. 13, 2009 – 8:00 pm (Day 5)

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

The crew of the OSV BOLD spent today fishing with University of Puerto Rico (UPR) scientists and students. It’s not what you think; we towed bongo nets—they’re called that because the opening looks like the drums—behind the ship to collect floating marine debris (garbage, plant material, plastic, etc.) and plankton (small animals and algae).

Marine debris is a problem in oceans, coasts and watersheds throughout the world. It can result from human activities anywhere in the watershed, from an overturned trash can many miles from the ocean, or from litter left on a beach. Detergent bottles, plastic bags, cigarette butts, and discarded fishing line can become marine debris. Birds, whales, turtles, dolphins and other marine animals become injured or die by becoming entangled in debris or by confusing it with their natural food.

image of two net shaped like bongo drums skimming the waterTo collect marine debris, the bongo nets are towed through the water at the surface for 30 minutes or longer. We then retrieve the nets onboard and examine the contents. The UPR scientists also collect and preserve animals and algae in the bongo for counting and identification back in their laboratory.

Our first stop was off the north shore by Arecibo. The trade winds continued to blow hard, making our “fishing” all the more difficult. We continued west off the Rincon Lighthouse for more floatable fishing. Here we were more protected from the large ocean swells on the north coast. Several humpback whales appeared out of the water upon our arrival as if to say hi and welcome us to the west coast. Our last fishing stop of the day was off of Mayaguez. The good news, so far, is we found very little garbage. Our main catch was small jellyfish and the blue variety of a little animal called a copepod, which looks like a blue flea. We were treated to a spectacular sunset as we completed operations for the day and sailed east along the south coast towards our next mission off Jobos Bay.

Hunting for Treasure

Feb. 14, 2009 – 6:00 pm (Day 6)

The day started at 5 a.m. in the darkness off the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, a chain of 15 tear-shaped mangrove islets known as Cayos Caribe and the Mar Negro area in western Jobos Bay. The Cayos Caribe islets are fringed by coral reefs and sea grass beds with small beach deposits and upland area. The Mar Negro area consists of mangrove forest and complex systems of lagoons and channels interspersed with salt and mud flats.

The reserve is home to the endangered brown pelican, peregrine falcon, hawksbill sea turtle and West Indian manatee. It is commercially important for marine recreation, commercial and recreational fishing and ecotourism. The area is managed by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and our data will be provided to the two agencies to assist in their management of this important and beautiful area. Our main goal is to map of the seafloor south of the reserve.

image of long, tubular, rocket shaped side scan sonar componentWe towed the side scan sonar, which resembles a small rocket, off the side of the ship. The side scan sonar uses sound waves to detect seafloor types (sand, mud, silt) and objects (coral, rocks, manmade debris, ship wrecks, etc.). With good images you can see sand waves and identify objects about size of a car tire. In order to produce a map of the survey area, we tow the side scan sonar in tightly spaced overlapping lines. We call this mowing the lawn because our survey pattern mimics how you’d typically mow your lawn. Sadly we didn’t find any sunken treasure, but several resident dolphins paid us a visit, which was reward enough.

We left Jobos Bay and conducted several bongo net tows looking for marine debris and marine life on our way to our next port of call in Ponce. We arrived in the Port of Ponce around 9 p.m. to transfer scientific personnel and stayed overnight.

The Midnight Watch

Feb. 17, 2009 – 12:30 am (Day 9)

It’s just after midnight and we’re 20 miles south of La Parguera conducting water column profiles, a series of scans that help create a cross-sectional view of the sea. Our crew, along with University of Puerto Rico (UPR) researchers, is sampling down to 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) every two hours and made one profile down to 8,200 feet (2,500 meters). The ship and scientific crew are working around the clock in 24 hour mode (four hours working and eight hours off).

This far out at sea, you are unable to see the lights of land, but the moon is brightly shining. However, by looking out from the opposite side of the ship, staring out into the abyss, you can’t help but be humbled by the stars and seemingly endless ocean night. You tend to get philosophical on the midnight watch. It seems like we left Ponce a week ago, but we only left at 6 a.m. yesterday and have been working out here since about 9 a.m.

image of smpling equipment consisting of several tubular tanks in a round cage-like deviceOur water column profiler consists of an electronics package with many sensors that measure ocean parameters (salt content, temperature, density, depth, dissolved oxygen, and many more) as the instrument is lowered through the water column. Water sampling bottles are placed around the instrument package and allow us to collect water samples at up to 12 different depths. We’re providing ship time to UPR to allow them to collect information to better understand this area of complex ocean water layers.

There are many different layers of water in the deep ocean. Some start in the North or South Pole and slowly work their way deep below the warmer surface water of the Caribbean Sea. The surface temperature in this area starts at 81 degrees Fahrenheit, drops to 41 degrees at 3,280 feet and seems to level off at 39 degrees at 8,200 feet. Cooler water is heavier and sinks below the warmer, lighter water. In addition to using the data to protect the environment, scientists are also studying this layering of ocean water as a potential way to generate energy using the different physical properties of the water layers.

I’m off watch now and getting ready to get some sleep. We plan to tow the bongo nets later today on our return trip to Ponce. We will be transferring scientific personnel and mobilizing for our next adventure off La Parguera later today.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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