Here’s the complete report on last Sunday’s fantastic NatureNerdFest field event with the US Geological Survey. You can see even more photos on the N4N Flickr stream.
Thanks to Isa and Susan and William and the other WERC researchers who gave us such a warm welcome, and a special thanks to Dan Rademacher for helping pull the carpool effort together under quickly-changing circumstances. And thanks as well to our drivers, you all saved the day for us carless Nerds!
Wildlife biologists Isa Woo and Dr. Susan De La Cruz gave us a fascinating overview of their work, which generally focuses on the impact of climate change on coastal estuaries and the crucial habitat they provide for many struggling and/or protected species. Several detailed slides showed us helpful cross-sections of the types of areas that they monitor, but perhaps the most striking part of the presentation was a video of the tide coming in at China Camp State Park in the not-too-distant future, if current projections for sea level rise hold true.
The USGS info page for this video explains further:
This time-lapse video shows the dramatic natural tidal cycles of a salt marsh in San Francisco Bay — daily rhythms to which animals take refuge in high ground, and the marsh receives sediment and nutrients from the estuary. But what will happen to these marsh ecosystems under sea level rise scenarios? Will we see shifts in vegetation and animal species, or lose some marsh ecosystems altogether? Learn more at the San Francisco Bay Sea Level Rise Project website.
This video really captures the urgency of the work that the Western Ecological Research Center and other climate change researchers are facing, and why we are so enthused to be talking with them about possible collaborations. For much more information on their mission and ongoing projects, check out their website.
Flight For Nature - Drones and eco-research
Several drone experts had to back out for the day due to various schedule conflicts, so the UAV activity was not quite as organized as we had hoped. But several other DIY flight enthusiasts jumped in to provide us with some definite thrills.
Quadcopter getting a good look at Mare Island — photo by Ed Brownson
Reiner’s quadcopter with GoPro camera attached was the star of the show. He showed the gawking crowd some impressive low-level maneuvers, a nice vertical lift with some fun spins and twirls, and generally gave us eco-drone newbies an idea of the possibilities. Brain-gears were almost audibly grinding through exciting new things to do with autonomous flying platforms.
This meeting was about exploration. Initially, people were interested in what we could do with drones. The concerns about resolution, precision and such went away after we explained that these little guys can take whatever you are willing to lose in a crash!
I think it would be interesting to set some fun, useful, and doable goals for the next event. This will definitely gather interest from a larger pool of drone enthusiasts.
- Take ortho-photos of a particular area.
- Overlay drone photos on a map.
- Do manual reconnaissance of a stationary target.
- Do automatic reconnaissance/image acquisition of a stationary target at a particular latitude/longitude.
- Do manual/automatic reconnaissance of a moving object tagged with a GPS and wireless/radio connectivity.
Unidentified lichen at 50x — photo by Damien Tighe
Flatmesh Weaver found on Mare Island — photo by Ken-ichi Ueda
Kaldari, Damon, and I successfully collected a bunch of spiders and we will be sending parts of them to Quintara Biosciences in Albany later this week for sequencing. In January we hope to do the same work ourselves at the Cal Academy to see how hard it is and what the cost difference is.
Map view of some NerdBuoy windspeed data collected at the NerdFest, as viewed on the ManyLabs Data Hub.
This design is the first proof-of-concept prototype for a versatile technology exploration platform. It will serve as an environmental sensor, attitude and position, and wireless signal telemetry unit, and can be placed in various spots around pilot test areas to gather data on a regular schedule for a few days or weeks at a time. It can also be carried by hand, bicycle, vehicle (or possibly even by drone in a stripped-down version) to profile a given area’s suitability for various technologies and protocols.
The NerdBuoy electronics module gets passed around for inspection — photo by Ed Brownson
For example, a major issue for most remote sensor projects is figuring out what wireless methods should be used for reliable yet cost-effective communication. Cell phone modems might provide adequate coverage, but ongoing service and data charges are likely to be expensive for even a moderate number of locations. Experimentation with various wavelengths and protocols might indicate that a local mesh or other dedicated RF link system would provide comparable bandwidth for a much cheaper ongoing cost.
In other words, this platform will allow variations on many technology themes to be developed quickly to explore the general problem space, then more refined design work can commence. The first version is built with circuit modules available off the shelf — Arduino boards and shields, Grove sensor boards. A mounting scheme using laser-cut plastic sheets as a “skeleton” to hold these various modules together has been customized by Peter Sand to make efficient use of this cylindrical instrumentation housing.
This project is also an exercise in imagining the data structures and network software that will be required to accommodate a variety of envisioned smart buoys/remote environmental sensor platforms in the future. Multimedia features beyond GSM cellphone audio and perhaps very low-res video or still jpeg photos are not generally envisioned for this particular platform, but we expect these options will be explored in related projects soon.
We’ll have more information here on the NerdBuoy project as it develops, but for now join us on the Networking Nature Google Group to explore these ideas further.
Now it’s time to start thinking about our next NerdFest! We’ll no doubt be back to Mare Island soon, but maybe there are other possibilities, too. Do you have connections at an outdoor venue that might be perfect for field-testing drone ideas or for exploring NerdBuoy operation, like one of the relatively abandoned air bases scattered around the Bay Area? Do you know of other research groups or agencies that we might collaborate with on similar problems? Throw out your ideas on our Google Groups or Meetup page and we’ll see what happens!
Onward, Nerds, and Happy Holidays!
Thank You, Nature Nerds!
You made the inaugural NatureNerdFest @ Mare Island a whiz-bang success! Over 40 technologists and nature enthusiasts joined together with several young kids, high school students, and USGS researchers to bioblitz, collect environmental sensor data, fly quadcopters, and watch technical presentations. Concordant sounds of boffin-speak filled the crisp December air, as the weather gods blessed us with a nice dense air mass to assist in sound conduction, and the like-minded company and beautiful surroundings stirred our collective imaginations.
Nature Nerds enjoy an overview presentation of USGS research efforts — photo by Ed Brownson
We’ll have a more detailed report after we’ve collected stories and photos. And we’d love for you to share your photos as well, so please post your bests shots on the Nerd For Nature Flickr stream. And don’t miss our year-end Project Night at Oakland’s TechLiminal community workspace on Tuesday, December 17, where all of these topics and more will be on the agenda.
But for now, we want to keep all those wondrous conversations going! So please jump right into our brand new Google Groups and make a splash. Make comments about the NerdFest, ask questions you meant to ask but didn’t, propose new directions for Nerd investigations, carry on technically detailed design discussions. These are your forums for Nerding out on Nature, so get to it, and see you there!
Flight For Nature — What can DIY unmanned flight enthusiasts and biodiversity researchers accomplish together? Let’s find out! UAVs, kites, balloons, multicopters, fixed wing, LiDAR, multispectral imaging, HD videography, and a whole lot more.
Networking Nature — Help us tackle three main facets of a universal struggle in ecological research: Managing sensors and collecting sensor data in remote locations [enviro-hardened off-grid open-source hardware], getting the crucial information back to civilization [wireless networks], then doing something clever and useful with it [maps, GIS, data visualization, and so on]. One example of what we’re up to is the NerdBuoy technology exploration platform that debuted at the NerdFest.
Crowdsourcing Nature & Bioblitzing — Nature Nerds have pioneered the use of grassroots volunteers to map biodiversity (see our Bioblitz page for more info), and we continue to expand the possibilities for regular citizens to engage with and document the nature all around them. New crowdsourcing projects including monitoring habitat change over time using smartphone cameras, and collecting plant and animal samples for DNA barcoding. We are also discussing the possibilities for crowdsourced software to help sort through voluminous collections of wildlife camera trap photos.
Air Quality — What pollutants and toxic gases are in our atmosphere, how much and where? We’re designing, building, calibrating, and deploying our own sensors, and collaborating with other citizen scientists to find out. We are also concerned with environmental justice aspects to the air pollution equation, and strive to work with affected communities and groups to research and understand the issues and empower positive change.
And if you have interests that don’t fit these groups, throw your questions and ideas onto the main Nerds For Nature Google Group, where any eco-tech or Nature Nerd topic is more than welcome.
Ken & The Nerds For Nature Core Organizers
We have a lot coming down the pike in 2014. Here are the blitzes we know about, with dates where we have them:
We’re working on nailing down the January date for Palo Alto Baylands, and then it’s fast an furious through May!
We’ve got a few key TODOs that came out of the meeting:
to start getting a handle on all these blitzes, I made a new Bioblitz section of our website. Could do a lot more, but at least there’s a shared calendar now!
Change over Time
We also talked about a cool new idea, from Ken-ichi, of monitoring change over time using this simple but awesome concept (basically an angle bracket). We have an opportunity to help turn hikers into data gatherers as habitat on Mount Diablo recovers from the Morgan Fire, which burned several thousand acres earlier this year.
In a nutshell: See bracket, put camera in bracket, take photo, post to social media with hashtag.
A few of us are going to work on the bits and atoms parts of this project —
Nerds for Nature is one year old!
We started the experiment to see if combining tech, design, and nature nerds would yield interesting projects just over one year ago. At our first meeting, held October 8, 2012, we didn’t yet have a name— our notes are simply titled “enviro + tech”.
Since then we’ve grown in number, honed our vision, and have invited participation from Nature Nerds around the country.
By the numbers, we are:
136 strong on our Meetup Page
Followed by 658 on Twitter
Liked by 290 on Facebook
Our Bioblitzes have yielded thousands of observations in parks throughout the SF Bay Area. We have additional blitzes coming up in the next year, and expect thousands more bird, insect, mammal, and plant observations to roll in through our hundreds of volunteer participants.
As our first full year approaches its close, we are tremendously grateful for the ways in which Nerds for Nature has grown— and is still growing. Our work is informed by the people (thank you!), particularly those who join us at our monthly Project Nights. We think 2014 is going to spark even more collaborations and action.
For those interested in helping to steer the Nerd for Nature ship, we invite you to look into our Core Organizer structure and guidelines. We do ask for commitments of time and energy, but it’s a rewarding way to help shape incredible movement. Plus you get your picture on our nature nerdy website. :) Just contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
If you’d like to donate to Nerds for Nature, you may do so here. We are all volunteers and pay out-of-pocket for all of our web tools, snacks and beverages for Project Night, and printing costs. Even $10-$20 would help make sure Nerds for Nature continues to provide for all who are interested!
Here’s to 2013 and all of the Nature Nerds we’ve met, and to 2014 and the Nature Nerds yet to come!
Two weeks ago Nature Nerds Beth, Molly, Emily and I loaded up and headed to SXSW Eco in Austin, TX to bring Nerds For Nature (with a splash of Tatzoo!) to the Makerspace exhibit hall. We were excited to meet people, learn about new projects, and see how attendees responded to our DIY photobooth and networking game. We were not disappointed!
Step 1 of our activity started out with a provocative question - what is your spirit animal? This turned out to be a great way to get people smiling and “thinking wrong” so that they started to open up and chat with us. In partnership with Tatzoo we had selected six Texas endangered species for them to pick from for the exercise. Once they picked their animal they got one sticker of that animal for their nametag and one for Step 2.
Step 2 was to have them put on a post-it note their name, a skill they had, a skill they needed in a collaborator, and any projects they wanted to work on along with a Twitter handle or email address. It was really fun to see people use this as a chance to think through what they had to offer and what they needed to find in a potential collaborator.
Step 3 was to amplify their needs using Twitter. We had each participant take a photo in front of our DIY photobooth and then we tweeted out the picture using the #n4nconnect hashtag.
As the day went on we tried to find connections ourselves and then tweet at both parties to see if we could get them to introduce themselves. This proved to be challenging as our booth was so popular we didn’t have much spare time to do this step. A final follow-up step for this exercise will be to do data entry and visualization for all the post-its and then reach out to participants again to share this data and visualization, so stayed tuned! In the meantime you can use the #n4nconnect hashtag and we will retweet these posts from the main @nerds4nature account to amplify your messages.
This was the first time we had attempted this particular activity, which was greatly inspired by the mind mapping activity from our launch event in February. It was great fun and our goal is to refine and document it as much as possible so it can be replicated by others and the #n4nconnect hashtag becomes a useful tool for Nature Nerd collaborators all over!
For more on the entire SXSW Eco Conference check out some of these reportback posts from others:
Nature Nerd Shaun Houlihan has just received the first batch of his new air quality sensor prototype boards, designed in collaboration with our AQ team. For Project Night, Peter Sand of ManyLabs will demonstrate the fine art of soldering itty-bitty surface mount components to circuit boards using a DIY thermal reflow device (in other words, a hot plate). We’ll also talk about the bigger picture of calibrating and interconnecting sensors for various real-world applications.
A new Nerds For Nature working group is on the wing! Flight For Nature is bringing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle enthusiasts and remote imaging, GIS, videography, and other technology experts together with biologists, geologists, and naturalists, with a mission to inspire and develop new remote flight applications that benefit ecological research and education. We want to consider and include every possible sort of non-piloted flying machine, from quadcopters to kites to fixed-wing R/C airplanes and beyond.
Initially, we are collaborating with the Western Ecological Research Center (WERC) of the USGS, but we hope that our activities will inspire other efforts, as well. These concepts include HD videography for habitat surveys and educational films, high-resolution photography using various wavelengths and formats for determining vegetation cover and stress, and precision geolocation and range-finding techniques for mapping tidal marsh landforms over time. The coastal areas that WERC monitors are often literally shifting sands, marshlands, salt ponds, river deltas, and so on — they have a lot of work just keeping track of geomorphology, much less living things.
HD video camera on a quadcopter — image courtesy of KopterVision
The prohibitive expense and potential danger of small fixed-wing manned aircraft for ongoing tracking projects has made this once-standard protocol a rare extravagance. Satellites are too distant to get the resolution they need (centimeter-sized pixels are the tantalizing goal). Tromping through on a regular basis to map out vegetation is time-consuming, tedious work, and disruptive to wildlife habitat.
There’s plenty of uncomfortable news these days about military drones, but like any technology, there is an abundance of more hopeful applications as well. UAVs and drones are no different, and their rapid adoption by researchers will help solve many of these vexing ecology-monitoring problems. Check out ConservationDrones.org to learn about some exciting conservation-oriented projects around the world, and visit PublicLab to see some amazing citizen-science balloon and kite mapping and photography efforts.
Clearly, the Bay Area is a hub of aeronautic innovation, as well as a locus of conservation research. Flight For Nature, then, is a natural extension of Nerds For Nature’s mission to “bring together technologists and environmental professionals to collaboratively build awesome tools to understand, protect, and revive the natural world.” Join us and help push forward the state of the nature-flying arts!
Our goals include:
Discuss technologies and concepts, while growing the “drones for nature” community.
Collaborate on proposals and projects.
Collect and share resources, links, and other information on these topics.
Plan demonstration flights for a “Nature Nerd Field Day” at the WERC field office on Mare Island, possibly in early December.
We’re working on a Flight For Nature Meetup some time soon, stay tuned for more info. In the mean time,
Jump into our group discussion on Project Night (and bring your drone/UAV/pics)
Send an email to Ken for more information and to get on the FFN email list
Nerds For Nature Organizer
Flight For Nature facilitator
Last week, a half-dozen bioblitzers met in Oakland to start planning the fourth Nerds for Nature bioblitz, and the first one in Oakland!
In spring 2014 (date TBD), we’ll be canvassing the nation’s oldest wildlife refuge (yes, it really is!) logging as many species of plants, animals, fungi, etc. as we can in a single day.
Our blitzes so far, at San Mateo’s Laurelwood Park and SF’s Fort Funston and McLaren Park, have average almost 1000 observations each by 30-60 people each time. With Lake Merritt’s easy access, popularity, and high biodiversity, we’re betting we can easily exceed those numbers!
At the least, we’ll be out there with our smart phones using the iNaturalist app to gather data that can go into global databases used by scientists. We’re also working on ways to do sampling in the mudflats and waters of the lake too, and we might even send samples off for DNA barcoding!
Now that’s some serious DIY science!
Want to help? Join our Meetup group and come to our monthly Project Nights!
Nerds for Nature has now held three successful bioblitzes: about 3000 wildlife and plant observations and counting! We’ve got more blitzes in the works! You should do one too!
What is an iNat bioblitz?
An iNat bioblitz is basically two things:
A set time when a whole bunch of people converge on a park and log as many iNat observations as they can
A wrap session when those sightings are uploaded, the results reviewed, celebrations had
Here are the most important things you’ll need to do, with links to samples from our blitzes.
A local park group/friends of has built in knowledge, enthusiasm, and reach. Work with them!
Get them excited and support their involvement. That’s where your local knowledge and lots of turnout will happen.
Ideally it’s accessible for lots of people
And the agency is on board — make sure of that! Since collecting specimens is totally optional, getting agency buy-in should be easy, but event permits might be required. (Too much red tape? Pick a different park.)
Early birding is great, but it’s a good idea to have a midday shift or afternoon, so more casual folks feel welcome.
One kind of ticket, keep it simple.
Use Eventbrite survey questions to find people’s interests
With cell reception, power, maybe food, maybe wifi. This is where you’ll make sure everyone uploaded their sightings and you show off results on a big projection. We’ve used libraries (often free and excellent), education centers, and pizza places. The main purpose is to provide closure and help newbies who might give up on the upload process b/c it’s too frustrating or confusing.
Make sure you can get a projector and use it to show off cool photos and stats.
If you can get WiFi, great. If not, consider a Karma portable hotspot.
Knowledge is good
Enthusiasm, friendliness, and comfort with iNat is essential! Knowing how to take an identifiable photo is often more valuable in a leader than taonomic expertise.
Post to social media! Link straight to Eventbrite.
Email to your own and your partner’s lists! This is crucial! Link straight to Eventbrite.
Write a press release, link to Eventbrite, add photos, and send to:
to local journalists.
events calendars (most newspapers and news websites have these, plus there are sites like upcoming.com, and zvents.com. Link straight to Eventbrite.
nature nonprofits (most have newsletters!) Link straight to Eventbrite.
Most RSVPs come in last two weeks, especially the final week. This is normal.
Did we mention you should link straight to Eventbrite? It’s important that people have a single, unambiguous place to go to sign up and get info.
This is a great source and link destination for your reminder email (see next step)
If you’re doing a zone map (useful to get distribution in a large park, but a bit of a pain), this is the time to make your printed map and iNat guide. Or just do the iNat Guide and point people to an existing park map. Contact iNaturalist for help making a guide.
Hint: Use Eventbrite’s handy emailer!
Keep it short. People won’t read a long email. Here’s an example. Notice this is pulled directly from the top of the Day-of web page you made in step 8.
Link back to that the Day-of web page for the nitty gritty
Printed zone maps and a wildlife guide from iNat
Sign-up sheets/release forms. Bonus points if you export the attendee info from Eventbrite preregistration and import it into your sheet. Many fewer handwritten emails to decipher!
Wrap session: Projector, laptop, extension cord, portable hotspot (if needed), array of field guides, and prizes if you want (though these have proven mostly extraneous).
Bring snacks! Not too many. Don’t go nuts on that front, but a little is nice.
Nearly 50 bioblitzers fanned through the City of San Mateo’s largest park on Saturday, logging as many species of plants and animals as they could in one day.
The result? As of this writing, 834 observations of 180 species. Wow! That’s impressive for a 236-acre city park. There were spiders pretending to be ants and beautiful native butterflies masquerading as common garden cabbage whites. Ten-year-old Victoria spotted a six-point buck, but he ran away too quickly to get photographed. Not so the beautiful ferruginous hawk, which didn’t quite escape being photographed for the cause!
Blitzers! Photo courtesy Sequoia Audubon Society
How did the teams do?
Note: You’ll need an iNat account to load the links below (these pages are resource-intensive, so iNat needs to keep out Google bots…)
So it’s Team 2 for the win! The most observations, the most species, and the most observations per person!
Team 2 rocks!
Here we are watching the returns come in:
But everyone had a great time, and we’re thrilled that the bioblitz model we first tried in May 2013 at McLaren has been working so well.
Indeed, the same day we were blitzing in San Mateo, another group of citizen scientists was following our lead back east, with a bioblitz on Chesapeake Bay. So cool!
This week, we’ll be posting more photos from the blitz along with highlights of especially cool sightings.
Stay tuned for that and word news about future bioblitzes. Hello, O-town! Hello, Lake Merritt! (Date TBD)
And thanks so much to our friends at Sequoia Audubon Society, who really blew the doors off on planning. Also thanks to iNaturalist — for existing and for helping out with all our bioblitzes — and to the California Academy of Sciences for supporting this blitz.