"Citizen scientists" in California have taken to the skies in order to track a growing issue on the West Coast.
Californians are sick and tired of not knowing what’s going on with the weather, so a group of “citizen scientists” decided to do something about it. According to an Associated Press report, a group of residents has banded together to use their smartphones and unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to study the changes to the coast resulting from El Niño.
The Nature Conservancy has asked drone enthusiasts to keep tabs on the flooding and erosion on the beaches of California, which has been particularly active this year as a result of the El Niño weather pattern and its accompanying precipitation. El Niño has resulted in one of California’s wettest winters in recent memory, and the potential for coastal erosion due to sea level rise is huge.
By collecting crowd-sourced images of floods and eroding beaches, scientists are amassing a database of nearly every instance of coastal erosion caught by amateur drone pilots. As climate change worsens, sea level rise is expected to accelerate and lead to more devastating loss of dunes and land surrounding coastal communities.
Scientists have been trying to model the impact of sea level rise on the rate of coastal erosion for some time, but they often questioned how accurate their models really were. According to Matt Merrifield, the chief technology officer at the Nature Conservancy, “We use these projected models and they don’t quite look right, but we’re lacking any empirical evidence. This is essentially a way of ‘ground truthing’ those models.”
Climate scientists warn that while El Niño is not a result of climate change, it offers a sneak peek of the storms coastal communities can expect to see in the coming decades. The project has turned into a new way to raise awareness about climate change, showing the often devastating effects of a rising sea level.
The project aims to identify weak points on the coast – the spots that give way to a rising tide the easiest during an El Niño event. With almost half of a million people and $100 billion in property and infrastructure situated on the West Coast, this information could prove critical as climate change continues to progress.
A blog post from the Nature Conservancy describing the details of the project can be found here.