Citizen science allows laymen to contribute to groundbreaking investigations, even without traveling

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By Tanya Ward Goodman,

Sandra Walser
Fjord Phyto citizen science participants pull up a net filled with phytoplankton, the microscopic plant-like organisms that give life to these icy ecosystems.

For the first time in some years, I don’t have a plan to travel. With this nourishing cycle of investigation, expectation and adventure at a standstill, I’ve been looking for ways to expand my experience and cultivate awareness of the world without leaving home.

I get on the treadmill in my garage and watch a slice of morning sun illuminate the narrow width of my driveway. Light transforms the chilly air, revealing a sea of tiny winged insects, bits of pollen, grains of ash or soot, sawdust from a neighboring construction site, and the delicate luminous scrawl of a spider’s web. The world is in motion, evidence of change is everywhere and, as I push myself to run, I breathe it all in. The small space of my backyard is filled with information and, with time on my hands, I can’t help but take notice.

Back in February, when I had no idea that stepping beyond my doorstep would soon mean breathing through a mask, I spent an hour in a Zodiac inflatable boat straining phytoplankton from freezing seawater in the Antarctic Peninsula. The day was silent and foggy and our voices mingled with the cries of a few Adélie penguins and the occasional crack and boom of a calving iceberg.

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