Last updated May 8, 2020 at 5:02 pm
It was only a couple of months ago Australia was devastated by bushfires. The recovery isn’t over – and here’s how everyday legend citizen scientists can help out.
Why This Matters: You can help understand and minimise the effects of future fires.
With everything that’s happening at the moment, it’s easy to forget that there are large parts of Australia still recovering from the devastating bushfires just a few months ago. But while some of us are stuck at home, we can use our time to help out tracking the recovery.
From June last year until February, fires swept through at least 126,000 square kilometres of bushland, destroyed nearly 6000 buildings, and killed at least 34 people and a billion animals. Smoke from the fires has been linked to another 400 deaths.
As the recovery continues for those directly affected, the rest of Australia can help contribute to the way back, all while maintaining physical distancing.
Citizen Science Bushfire Project Finder allows members of the public to contribute to research projects ranging from air quality, to identifying and confirming animal and plant sightings. In all there are 20 projects that anyone can take part in.
The findings by citizen scientists will help understand the impact and recovery from the fires, providing vital information about how to minimise effects of bushfires in the future.
From spotting animals to plant regrowth
As well as the devastation and the economic, social and psychological impacts on affected communities, the bushfires took a heavy toll on wildlife and affected water and air quality. Tracking just how affected they were requires monitoring by huge teams of people – and that’s where we come in.
Projects that we can take part in include one run by the Australian Museum that asks everyday people to help identity animals in photographs taken by movement-activated cameras in the bush. Being able to identify what animals are where is valuable for monitoring the effects of bushfires on Australian fauna.
Similarly, camera traps are also being used on Kangaroo Island to monitor flora and fauna recovery. The fires devastated more than one-third of the island.
Meanwhile there are other projects which allow everyday legend citizen scientists to log sightings of plants and wildlife returning to fire affected areas. Frogs, so often forgotten in disasters, even have their own project.
Other citizen science projects collect information about the intensity of fire impacts, observed fire behaviour, effects on water quality running off fire grounds, and impacts of the smoke on people’s health.
The website was established by the CSIRO and allows everyday legends to search by projects near them, or participate in other projects around the country from the comfort of our own homes.
“We’re using cutting-edge science like artificial intelligence, satellite imaging, and seasonal and decadal climate modelling to respond to fires and get ahead of the next bushfire season,” says CSIRO boss Larry Marshall.
However, the model is only as good as the data we feed it, and there is no substitute for the power of the people to keep us firmly connected with reality on the ground.”