Danger In the Water

by Jackson Novak

Watering holes can be a very good thing for the survival of many species. They bring life to ecosystems, support the survival of animals, and bring together a large diversity of wild creatures. However, with very good things there’s always a catch. The liquid in watering holes is infested with parasites. Scientists at Ol Pejeta Conservancy are trying to see how parasites in watering holes are affecting communities in the African Savannah. They are studying shifts in soil and large mammal behavior to see how those changes in turn influence parasite transmission. This information is detrimental to our understanding of disease spreading throughout certain environments.

In this case, the scientist are using camera trapping, which is snapping photos of each animal who comes to a watering hole. The task at hand is to examine each photo and see what types of animals are there and how many there are. Since computers have been poor at doing this, they created the zooniverse project so that many people can go through the plethora of photos and complete the task. This is the easier route to take because it would take the scientist a very long time to sort through the photos themselves.

 

In addition, climate change, seasonality, and human causes can all affect the parasite transmission among watering holes. Due to deforestation and habitat loss caused by humans large droves of infected animals have to drink from the same water. This increases the amount of infectious material in watering holes. Low water levels and limited surface area are the culprit of less watering holes in an environment. This causes more disease to be concentrated in one watering hole that many animals are drinking from. That leads to more susceptible hosts becoming infected, accelerating parasite development and decreasing survival in the ecosystem.

By the same token, watering holes help parasites survive and transmit across large distances and infect new species. Protozoans, helminths, viruses, and a large diversity of bacterial pathogens can be found in water bodies. These can transmit deadly diseases to humans, such as E.coli and gastroenteritis. The scientists measure many other areas of the site, such as the amount of vegetation (to see what sites are engaging in food resources) , chemicals in the soil (for understanding degradation) , weather (this can affect the way animals act and the survival of parasites), and dung cover (the amount of animal feces at the sight).

In the long run, studying watering holes helps us see how parasites form, how they spread among species, and how multiple factors can affect an entire ecosystem. By participating in this Zooniverse project, you are changing how people think about parasite transmission, helping scientists see ways entire ecosystems interact and change, and preventing many deaths from disease from parasites. The feeling of participating in something bigger than you is incredible.

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Protecting Our Planet From Solar Storms: An intro, a plea, and explanation

by Samuel Rayas

Before I start, this project can be found on Zooniverse and will be under the category of projects next you will be able to: track the completion of the project, learn more about the project, and start helping out. To offer an overview of what the project entails it can be explained in a few short paragraphs- sorry- and this will help you understand the importance and science behind the project. Before I start, just remember that anyone and I mean anyone can help out in this project whether you are young or old your help will contribute to the progress made by scientist.

Now here comes the many answers that will answer the many questions you have, firstly what is a solar storm ? A solar storm is both a solar flare and CME ( Coronal Mass Eruption), although both don’t always manifest at the same time, and they occur due to amassed magnetic energy suddenly being released. Typically they occur on sunspots where the local magnetic field is very strong. Now then, let’s move onto the second question which is, Why are these solar storms so important ? To start, these solar storms are important because if one were to hit earth “ it could knock out electricity grids, satellite navigation and communication for days, weeks or even months” (Solar Storm Team, 1) and it is a known fact that as the human race progresses we are relying more heavily on these technologies and we’d be at a loss.

Moving on since you know more about solar storms and why they are important lets go over some of the science, and how exactly we are going to help Shannon Jones, Chris Scott, and Julia Wilkinson carry out their research. Thanks to images from NASA STEREO spacecraft we can observe these images of solar storms as they erupt and begin to identify them. Some solar storms appear more complex in contrast to the simple ones; some appear full of twist in turns while others are relatively flat and have no texture. Why we are observing these is because it might hold clues into how the earth is affected by the storms, but also their potential impact on the earth and in the end give people who are in charge of running our communications and power more time to prepare for the impacts of a potent solar storm.

Lastly is how you can help and why your help is needed. What adds onto the challenging part is that not only does the magnetic field from the sun shootout solar flares and CMEs but it also affects the solar winds which makes it to form complex shapes. All these others factors make predicting the arrival of a solar storm even more difficult as there are an abundant amount of things in the way when all were trying to look at are the solar storms. Also relating to this is a need to understand how exactly solar winds and magnetic fields affect clouds of solar matter as it would make predicting a solar storm much easier. Moving away from the nitty gritty comes the task which is identifying how the solar storms appear, either simple or complex. Solar storms may appear like bubbles or a broken light bulb, and these two mental images can help you in identifying which storm is which. Computers are bad at identifying the complexities of these storms so thats why your help is needed. Thanks for listening and I hope this debrief helped in your understanding and maybe sparked an interest in helping out the project.

A Zooniverse Project: Cyclone Center

by Lauren Meier

Cyclone Center is a zooniverse project that was put together by a team of researchers  who are interested in science and what is happening to the climate. Volunteers answer a series of questions relating to an image which helps identify storms and allows more research data to be obtained. Without the volunteers’ help the research has been found to be inconsistent. Inconsistencies make it difficult to understand how climate change has affected the nature and strength of the cyclones. From the volunteers assistance, this project will help climatologists better estimate the intensity of future storms. This will also allow for more accurate predictions to be made about these storms such as when and where it will occur.

Weather satellites have taken over nearly 300,000 images of cyclones since 1978. The satellites orbit Earth at a very high altitude, with the same speed as Earth’s rotation. Since a computer cannot identify the images patterns, participants identify information about these tropical cyclones using a technique titled “The Dvorak Technique.” This technique was adopted by many of the worlds tropical cyclone forecast centers and allows the observations seen to be simplified into smaller questions that are then observed and classified. The questions that are addressed include, where is the center of the system, what type of cloud pattern best describes this system, how organized or intense is the cloud pattern, and does the system look stronger or weaker than 24 hours ago? A version of this technique is used to help observe and identify information about an image. After this information is gathered and completed, a database uses this information to help estimate the intensity of future storms.

The colors on the images of the cyclones represent the temperatures of specific areas of the storm. The black and gray clouds are the warmest, while pink follows. Red, yellow, and orange indicate medium-level clouds and the shades of blue are the coldest. Sometimes, the color white will show up identifying  a very cold cloud. The cloud top temperatures are also indicated which are important because they give an idea of how tall the clouds are. The taller clouds are responsible for the heavy rain and thunderstorms. The temperature decreases with height in the lower atmosphere (up to 10 miles), so this results in cold clouds being taller than warm clouds.

As participants help guide this project along further with answers to the research, the cyclones will be able to be predicted with a better estimate of when they will come and where they will hit.

 

Warping Space and Time

by Aarthi Koripelly

A_Horseshoe_Einstein_Ring_from_HubbleThe theory of relativity, originally hypothesized by Albert Einstein, states that massive objects can “warp” space and when light passes by, it follows this curved path. Gravitational lensing is created when massive objects cause light to bend around them allowing the objects to act like giant lenses.  Matter (in a form of a celestial body, galaxy, or quasar) that is capable of bending light from a source seems to look magnified or distorted in images seen by the observer.

Space Warps is a Zooniverse project created to identify images with the presence of gravitational lensing. Participants can click on celestial bodies to identify a magnification, increase in brightness, or distortion to help classify images that have lensing. Space Warps can help scientists and astronomers observe different types of matter, such as brown dwarfs, or try to calculate the weight of galaxies. Understanding gravitational lensing also gives us a better idea on relativity and the effect on space and time by gravitational forces.

Currently, the images for the Space Warps project are being taken by the Subaru Telescope in Mauna Kea using the Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC). From Space Warps, I was able to find quite a few images with lensing. Majority of these images have different types of lensing patterns and all of them will help astronomers view galaxies in better quality and detail.

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 2.12.56 PMTrying to comprehend how large objects in space can bend (or “warp”) space and time is quite complicated. An easier way to think about this is to imagine how the Sun keeps the Earth in its orbit by the pull of its gravitational force.

Relativity (in a simpler understanding) states that the Sun creates a warp in space, causing the Earth and other planets to be pulled into this bend. This is the gravitational “force” that keeps Earth in the Sun’s orbit. An image is shown above that depicts this “warp” in space. .

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 2.11.49 PMThe geodetic effect and Lense-Thirring effect are two predictions of general relativity that were confirmed by NASA’s 2004 Gravity Probe mission. The geodetic effect can be used to explain this curvature of spacetime on an object ( a satellite) carried along an orbiting body (Earth), while the Lense-Thirring effect (also known as frame-dragging) explains the effect of a rotating body on spacetime. In 2004, NASA launched the Gravity Probe to measure the spacetime curvature of the Earth by measuring the geodetic effect and frame-dragging effect. This was successfully able to confirm Einstein’s theory of general relativity and how Earth (or other large celestial objects) can “warp” spacetime by measuring disturbances on the probe’s gyroscopes.  

Gravitational lenses come in many structures and patterns. Examples of strong lensing (where there are more visible distortions) include arcs, rings, and the Einstein’s cross. When less distortions are present, like in weak lensing, statistical analysis and other models must be used to identify lensing.

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 2.12.26 PMThe Einstein’s Cross is an example of a gravitationally lensed quasar that shows four images of the same quasar in a cross-like pattern. (Quasars are luminous celestial bodies that emit an enormous amount of light.) The intense gravity from the galaxy is able to curve the light coming from the quasar because of the “bend” it creates in space. Viewing the quasar with four different images is immensely beneficial for scientists who want to study the quasar or galaxy. The image to the left shows a faint Einstein’s cross collected from the Space Warps dataset.

A recent study by Dr. Phil Marshall and other members of the Space Warps research team states that Space Warps has helped with identifying more than 29 lensed images. Over hundreds of lensed objects are left to find in the current dataset and with the help of citizen scientists, more can be discovered and used for research.

 

Sources:

https://www.space.com/17661-theory-general-relativity.html

https://spectrum.ieee.org/aerospace/space-flight/the-gravity-probe-b-bailout

https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/aprajita/space-warps-hsc/classify

https://www.space.com/456-einstein-warped-view-space-confirmed.html

 

Parasites in Africa

by Samuel Trusty

There are, on average, a lot of animals in africa, and these animals tend to attract a lot of diseases and parasites. The diseases are spread in multiple ways, such as animal contact. In  Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya, scientists are using camera traps to see how watering holes can affect the spread of diseases. Using Zooniverse, which is a crowdsourcing website made for data analysis, they have set up a project to figure out how the watering holes affect the animals, and the environment around them. What you will know after reading this is what they need us to do on Zooniverse, what parasites and diseases are being spread, and what the scientists are doing at the watering hole sites.

First of all, the job of the people using zooniverse is to look at pictures of the watering hole, and to classify which animals are in the picture, Then they figure out how many animals are in the picture, Finally they count how many are drinking and how many are eating. The reason I like this project is because you don’t know what animal you’ll see, generally you would see larger mammals, such as elephants, cows, and buffalo, but if you’re lucky you may see something rarer like a Honey badger, or an Ostrich, or even a pack of Monkeys.

Although, the diseases these animals can be afflicted with are not as fun, I’ll start with Giardia which is an intestinal parasite that causes Diarrhea. It is a disease found in both animals and humans. Giardia is transmitted through contaminated water, food, or through infected feces. The next is Anthrax. Anthrax is a ground borne spore that can infect animals or humans, it is contracted most commonly by grazing animals such as, Zebras and Gazelles, it can also be contracted through standing water or through wounds. Once in the body Anthrax will infect the cells used to fight infection, then it will rapidly multiply and start producing lethal toxins, the most common symptom is sudden death. There are other diseases such as E-coli and Strongyle, but you can research those yourself if you are at all interested, because now I am moving on to the next section.

Lastly, the sites the scientists have a few jobs to do. One job is testing the water, in the watering holes, they don’t say how they test it, but my theory is they test the pH levels, and the amount of certain bacteria in the water.  Another job they have is to look at the amount of vegetation around the watering hole to see which ones would be favored by the animals because a larger amount of food. They also check the dung cover on the ground which can be useful to see the amount of animals that regularly come by and what types of animals they are, also they may use the feces in tests for bacteria and disease.
The research and data that is taken from this can help limit diseases between animals and help keep a lot of species thriving, and I think that you should look at the website and see if you can help out with this project. The link is right here so you can click it if you would like, and if not you should tell someone else who may be interested.

Science Scribbler

by Zoe Heidenry

Cells are the foundation of our body. When cells don’t work the way the are supposed to, there are disastrous consequences. An example of this happening is when a person is affected by Huntington’s Disease. The project Science Scribbler is trying to determine how cells change when affected by this disease. Science Scribbler is one of the many interesting projects found on the Zooniverse website. Zooniverse is a crowd-sourcing platform in which citizen scientists can help analyze massive amounts of data.

Huntington’s Disease is a genetic disorder that breaks down nerve cells in the brain. It has no known cure, and is fatal. The disease starts with a mutation within a person’s brain cells. Extra parts called nitrogen bases are added to a cell’s DNA. Since the DNA is the instruction book for the body, this causes unnecessary amounts of amino acids (protein building blocks) to be added to a cell’s protein. The cell’s protein is then processed differently by the body. Due to all this extra material, a fragment is created within the brain cell. This fragment creates an aggregation which causes the protein and brain cells to stop functioning.

Science Scribbler is trying to find out what this fragment is doing to the cell. Researchers use Cryo Soft X-ray Tomography, a fancy way of saying 3D-imaging, to take pictures of the affected cells. Citizen scientists are needed in order to examine all of these images. The first step in analyzing these images is to point out the center of all the structures found within the cell. These structures usually look like circles and ovals. They can be big or small, dark or light, many or few. Citizen scientists then outline each one. The researchers hope that eventually a common structure change (size or shape) will become apparent. By going through all of these images, citizen scientists are also helping to train computers to do the same job. Each time an image is successfully analyzed, software is taught to mimic the annotations.The ultimate goal is for computers will be able to recognize Huntington’s Disease when shown an image of a cell.

Science Scribbler is trying to identify the unknown. Discovering how cells change because of Huntington’s Disease could be the key to this otherwise incurable and fatal disease. It’s amazing to be a part of a project that could lead to the cure of a devastating disease. Anyone can help out, try it at https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/msbrhonclif/science-scribbler/classify

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(In this image, the cell’s structures are marked and outlined.)

Cyclone Center: Identify past storms to create a better idea of the future

by Elizabeth Coughlin

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 2.01.49 PMThe devastation and loss following cyclones, hurricanes, and typhoons is well documented.  Pictures, news articles, and interviews combine with scientific investigation to create an idea of a storm’s effect.  This bleak reality may seem unavoidable, but knowing what damage one of these natural disasters could bring before it’s arrived might be in the future.  That’s because it’s one of the goals of the Cyclone Center project located on the crowdsourcing web portal called Zooniverse. The project aims to determine a more consistent- and thus, better- estimate of cyclone winds.

What is a cyclone anyway?  Interestingly enough, the term ‘cyclone’ is- in this context- used to refer to anything from a hurricane to a typhoon (obviously including actual cyclones as well).  Cyclone Center does not distinguish between these terms, and does not ask participants to categorize images in this manner. In this general sense, a cyclone is a circular air movement that start off over the warm ocean waters near the equator.  Most have heavy rains and create strong winds that can pick up and throw very heavy objects. Some stay over the water, but others pass over land and can cause massive destruction with the accompanying flooding and strong winds.

Launched in September 2012, Cyclone Center was created to solve the inconsistency and contradiction among existing research regarding the wind speeds of tropical cyclone storms.  Without clearly organized data available, it has been difficult to understand how climate change has affected the nature and strength of cyclones. Estimation of future trends has also been problematic, since any estimation has to be inexact in order to account for the lack of obvious trendlines.  To solve this problem, Cyclone Center was created to make a new database of information. Since only a very small fraction of cyclones are measured directly by specially designed aircraft, Cyclone Center uses over 300,000 images taken from infrared sensors on weather satellites of tropical cyclones since 1978.  These sensors provide an estimate of the temperature at the tops of clouds, which is represented with different colors in the images. Cloud top temperatures are very important because they give us an idea of the height of the clouds. Since temperature decreases with height, cold clouds are taller than warm clouds.  The height of clouds is important since taller clouds are responsible for the heavy rain and thunderstorms of tropical cyclones.

 

What do we want to know about these cyclones?  The project has decided not to bother asking for numerical data.  What is asked instead, however, are four important questions about qualitative data: Where is the center of the storm system? What type of cloud pattern best describes it? How organized or intense is the cloud pattern? Does the system look stronger or weaker than 24 hours ago?  This series of questi

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 2.03.03 PM

ons is the result of a simplification of the Dvorak Technique, a 10-step identification method developed by Vernon Dvorak- an American meteorologist- between 1969 and 1984. Besides simplifying the Dvorak Technique, researchers working with the Cyclone Center also created a ‘Field Guide’ with example images and characteristics in order to aid identification.

 

Cyclone Center’s use of imagery is not especially innovative.  Tropical cyclones do generally develop over remote areas of the ocean, where there are few- if any- direct observations of them.  Since these storms are not directly measured, scientists have to use images of them to estimate the wind speed. However, the problems in other research projects lie in how the method of estimation is used.  Even though different regions are under observation by different agencies, and it is known that each region’s storms behave differently, the algorithm used around the world is basically the same. As such, data tends to lean toward being nonsensical.  In an instance noted by one of the project’s developers, some studies (in published literature) say that typhoon activity is increasing in the western Pacific Ocean, yet others say it is decreasing. Another challenge climate scientists face is from ‘best track data,’ a post-season analysis of each storm’s position and intensity in a region.  Over time, with more data available, historical best track data has become too dissimilar with data created using more modern technology. Additionally, the best track data varies between the different agencies who put them together, in part due to access to different data and routine procedures. As such, differences occur far too frequently to accurately compare data.

 

Cyclone Center aims to create a new, unbiased database based around qualitative data.  However, the scientists cannot analyze the over 300,000 images alone. So, they’ve turned to Zooniverse for outside help.  This is what citizen science excels at– using thousands of participants to work through a formidably large dataset. Plus, since non-expert responses as a group are almost always just as good as a professional’s in cases such as this, the data can be used directly in scientific papers.  As a result of Cyclone Center, scientists will have a massive new data set that has been classified and sub-categorized in order to aid a variety of studies and to be used to aid in prediction of future trends.

 

It’s vitally important that the strength of storms are accurately predicted.  Societal benefits include more advanced (and more accurate) warnings that can give valuable time for evacuations and the protecting of life and property.  There are also scientific benefits of this new information- such as helping answer if storms are getting stronger with climate change- but as a citizen science participant, the main benefit is knowing that every contribution can help save lives and minimize the effect of natural disasters like hurricanes.   Participants in this project are helping create a safer future for those who have been or will be affected by storms. Identifying even one image makes a positive impact. To start contributing to this amazing project, visit their website (www.cyclonecenter.org), or learn more on their blog (http://blog.cyclonecenter.org/).