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GLOBE Observer app
NASA’s GLOBE Observer app lets anyone become a citizen scientist by collecting observations of clouds. (Credit: NASA GLOBE Observer)

One of NASA’s longest-running citizen science programs isn’t just for kids anymore: A newly released app called GLOBE Observer can turn any smartphone user into a cloud researcher.

And we don’t mean “cloud” in the computing sense. A program called Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment, or GLOBE, is looking for a wide range of cloud imagery that can feed into climate research.

“Clouds are one of the most important factors in understanding how climate is changing now, and how it’s going to change in the future,”  Holli Riebeek Kohl, NASA lead for the GLOBE Observer project, explained today in a news release.

“NASA studies clouds from satellites that provide either a top view or a vertical slice of the clouds. The ground-up view from citizen scientists is valuable in validating and understanding the satellite observations. It also provides a more complete picture of clouds around the world,” Kohl said.

One of the researchers who’ll be working with the GLOBE data is Erika Podest, an Earth scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Ground measurements are critical to validate measurements taken from space through remote sensing,” Podest said. “There are some places in the world where we have no ground data, so citizen scientists can greatly contribute to advancing our knowledge of this important part of the Earth system.”

The GLOBE Observer smartphone app is available for download for iOS and Android platforms via the program’s website. Once you create and confirm an online account, you can go through a brief tutorial, and then start classifying the clouds you see.

You’ll be alerted about upcoming overpasses by cloud-observing satellites so you can synchronize your observations. “We really encourage all citizen scientists to look up in the sky and take observations while the satellites are passing over through Sept. 14,” Kohl said.

Snapping photos of clouds is an optional part of the exercise, and some of the photos submitted will be displayed on the GLOBE website. Kohl is also planning to give a report on the GLOBE project at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in December.

GLOBE has been around since 1995, but for much of that time, the program has been focused on students and schoolteachers. For example, one project had students in Colorado collecting soil, vegetation and water samples from Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park to validate satellite measurements from NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive mission.

Over the past 21 years, students from around the world have collected more than 100 million environmental measurements for GLOBE’s database. Now the grown-ups are getting their turn.

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