Citizen science and the war on climate change

Campbell Baron
Story by Campbell Baron and CBC Kids News • 2019-03-19 14:26

Regular folks helping scientists gather vital data


EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is part of a CBC News series called In Our Backyard, which looks at how climate change is affecting Canadians, and what is being done about it.


So you've probably heard the words climate change many, many times. It’s a topic that adults have been talking about for a long time.

In Part 1 of our climate change series, we talked about the warming of our planet. In Part 2, we’re going to talk about the role regular people — known as citizen scientists — are playing in eco science.

Over the past hundred years, forecasting temperatures in northern climates has become a little bit less predictable.

And that's partly because of climate change.

Citizen scientists help professional scientists by observing the many little things that, when looked at all together, provide clues to how our climate is changing. This helps us plan for what to expect in the future.

They might count how many birds leave their backyard in the fall and come back in the spring. Or they might record how many days in the winter a backyard rink stays frozen.

So I visited a family in Newmarket, Ont., located north of Toronto, that participates in a citizen science website called RinkWatch.

Jeff McKercher and his kids, Kayla and Austin, on their backyard rink

Jeff McKercher and his kids, Kayla and Austin, on their backyard rink (CBC)

“What we do is collect data,” said Jeff McKercher, a police officer and amateur hockey scout for the NHL’s St Louis Blues.

“We submit it to the RinkWatch website and it helps track climate change [with] the different effects on your backyard rink with the weather changes.”

The info shared by McKercher and his fellow Rinkwatchers goes straight to climate researchers at the University of Waterloo in southern Ontario, who use the combined data to try to plan for the future.

“A simple project like this, it's something fun,” McKercher said. “But it can help us understand the long-term effects of everything that’s going on right now.”

Environmentalist David Suzuki discusses citizen science in the CBC Vancouver newsroom

Environmentalist David Suzuki discusses citizen science in the CBC Vancouver newsroom (CBC)

In order to better understand citizen science, I talked to the Canadian climate change legend himself, David Suzuki.

“Science is just a way of looking at the world in a certain way with certain rules. Any observations that we make as citizens, let alone as scientists, adds to this little bit of knowledge that we have,” Suzuki explained.

“So citizen science is a very, very important component of informing us about the world that we live in.”

I also had a chat with someone who's been involved in citizen science from a very young age, Mia Otokiak from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

Mia Otokiak taking snow measurements

(Mia Otokiak taking snow measurements on Oct. 18, 2016. (Mia Otokiak/Twitter)

The 22-year-old is a junior technical adviser at the Nunavut Impact Review Board. They do environmental assessments for proposed projects ranging from drilling and mining to tourism and scientific research.

But she started out at just 15 as a student collecting snow data for Oceans Network Canada, a scientific organization that conducts oceanic and climate research.

“I never would have thought that at 15 years old I'd be considered a scientist! It was such an amazing and empowering feeling to be able to be a citizen scientist in my home community. It was extremely important.”

The snow monitoring project helps track how climate change is impacting weather patterns and snowpack in the far north.

Otokiak added that citizen science is also a way to connect modern scientific research with Inuit knowledge of the local environment that has been passed down for generations.

“Having that traditional knowledge work with science in such an amazing way that shows that they can both benefit each other is beyond words.”

Whether you live in a town like Newmarket, a city like Vancouver or an inlet like Cambridge Bay, climate change will affect your way of life.

So in Part 3 of the series we're going to talk about what Canada might look like in years to come.

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About the Contributor

Campbell Baron
Campbell Baron
CBC Kids News Contributor
Campbell Baron is a 15-year-old entrepreneur and video producer from Toronto. He loves creating video content and got his start developing social media videos for brands, helping them tell stories that target younger audiences. He's worked with companies such as Sleep Country Canada and Pinkberry and is excited to work with CBC Kids News to produce engaging stories for kids across Canada.

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