Citizen scientists will be asked to take a journey with drifting microscopic plankton to build a global picture of how the organisms are affected by changes in ocean conditions in a project led by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).
The study, one of 13 funded as part of the federal government’s $1.1 billion national innovation and science agenda, will use intuitive and playful visualisation tools to harness “people power” to bring new perspectives to ocean data.
Oceanographer Martina Doblin, visual communicators and design academics Kate Sweetapple and Jacquie Lorber-Kasunic and University of Otago science communicator Nancy Longnecker will use the $260,000 grant to build a web portal where participants can contribute to a global analysis of environmental exposure experienced by drifting plankton.
Through visualising and exploring the structural development of virtual microbes, known as marmics, the citizen scientists will be able to see how the organisms might respond to changes in the ocean.
“These microscopic organisms play an enormous role in fuelling fisheries and, through the production of oxygen, keeping us alive. Yet we don’t know how these important functions will be maintained as the ocean changes,” says Associate Professor Doblin, team leader of the UTS Climate Change Cluster (C3) productive coasts research program.
“As far as scientific outcomes go, I’m really excited to use visualisation tools to make inferences about how plankton respond dynamically to changes in their environment. Without the help of citizen scientists, we wouldn’t have the capacity to analyse the biological implications of these planktonic journeys.”
An exciting element of the project is the potential for participants to “bring their marmics to life” as 3D printed forms. Participants will be encouraged to exhibit their marmics and share their experiences as citizen scientists, to be documented for future projects.
Associate Professor Sweetapple and Dr Lorber-Kasunic, experts in visual communication and information visualisation from UTS Faculty of Design Architecture and Building (DAB), are eagerly anticipating the project’s outputs.
“Critical to any interpretative process is the form in which the information is delivered. We’re interested in seeing what new insights can be gained by printing the data in 3D,” Associate Professor Sweetapple says.
Dr Lorber-Kasunic says the project presents “a wonderful opportunity for design and science to work together, and a real challenge to create an interface that encourages citizen scientists to explore and play with ocean data. It will be intriguing to see what insights develop from the poetic data forms.”
Science communicator Dr Longnecker will examine how the multidisciplinary project involves people who don’t normally contribute to citizen science projects and the impact of their participation.
Participants will be recruited online via social media. The web portal is due to be launched during National Science Week 2018.
The citizen science grants are part of the four-year, $29.8 million Inspiring Australia science engagement program encouraging community participation in science and technology.