Enabling Citizen Scientists to Monitor Permafrost Degradation
The Arctic is currently warming up at a much higher pace than the global average. This leads to thawing of permafrost (permanently frozen soil) with severe consequences for the Arctic ecosystem. Permafrost makes up about 25 % of the land area in the Northern Hemisphere and stores large amounts of carbon. Thawing of permafrost can further amplify global warming by releasing significant amounts of the greenhouse gases CO2 and methan. Unlike glaciers, permafrost is not directly visible on the earth’s surface and difficult to monitor. How could one possible gather reliable and up-to-date data on permafrost thaw for scientific climate impact assessments? The team at HeiGIT – and our partners at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research and the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, DLR) – count on citizen scientists to help out in the project “UndercoverEisAgenten”.
School classes both in Canada and in Germany work together to generate and classify data on land surface disturbances caused by thawing permafrost. Citizen Scientists in Canada operate drones to capture high-resolution imagery of the Arctic land surface. The imagery is processed and divided into manageable batches of simple mapping tasks (“micro tasks”) that can be solved by students (and other citizen scientists). Through the citizen scientists’ contribution, a unique reference data set is created for permafrost and climate change research. In combination with methods of machine learning, this will allow large-scale mapping of permafrost structures for the first time. Students in Germany will be able to experience the global impact of climate change while exchanging with school classes in Canada.
The project runs from July 2021 to December 2024 and is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of the funding area Citizen Science. It is one of 15 projects that are intended to advance cooperation between citizens and scientists, content and method wise, and provide answers to societal challenges by the end of 2024. Further information at:
01.06.2021 — 31.12.2024
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