Citizen Science

Are you craving something more stimulating than binging television series or walking around shopping centres this summer?

Hundreds of research projects around the country could use your help.

The rise of citizen science is providing experts with valuable data about everything from outer space to life in our waterways.

It’s even led to the discovery of new animal species and atmospheric phenomena.

Whether you plan to stay indoors all summer or go outside and explore nature, these boredom-busting projects will help you contribute to our understanding of the world.

Find frogs in your backyard

Noisy frogs call for mates in wheatbelt

Mobile phone users and gamers rediscovered the great outdoors in 2016 while searching for rare, fictitious animals via Pokémon Go.

Now, the Australian Museum wants you to stop hunting for bulbasaurs and toxicroaks and start finding living, breathing frog species in your neighbourhood.

The free FrogID app (available on IOS and Android) helps you identify frogs in your area by recording each unique croak, bark or chirp.

The app is preloaded with a library of Australian frog species, and once you record a clip it spits out a shortlist of suggested frog species matching the croak you’ve collected.

Experts at the Australian Museum listen to your audio, confirm your matches and send you feedback about your discoveries.

Frog biologist Jodi Rowley told ABC Radio Melbourne it was her dream to have the Pokémon crew switch over to the FrogID app.

“We don’t know enough about the frogs in Australia, and that’s one of the biggest obstacles to conserving them,” she said.

“There’s not that many frog biologists like myself, so we need everybody to get out there and figure out what their local frogs are and how they’re doing.

“By assessing the health of our frog populations, over time we can get an idea of the health of our own ecosystems and, ultimately, our own health.”

Hashtag your hailstones

Hailstones on the ground with a plastic ruler.If you’re frustrated by weather forecasts, you have the chance to make storm and hail predictions more accurate over the next few months.

University of Queensland researcher Joshua Soderholm is part of a team working on an algorithm to help enhance forecasters’ ability to predict large hail.

It will work in conjunction with the Bureau of Meteorology’s new dual-pol radar in Brisbane.

A white weather monitoring trailer in a field with a white landcruiser.

“We’re often out there on hailstorm days collecting hail, but we can’t get to every hailstorm so this is where the citizen science component really comes in,” Dr Soderholm said.

“We’re asking people, when it’s safe, to go outside, take a ruler, measure some hail, take a photo and send their reports in to us on Facebook, Twitter or through our reporting website.”

If you don’t have a ruler, use a coin or beer can to demonstrate scale; anything with a consistent size.

Dr Soderholm said the team also needed to know the street name or latitude and longitude where your hailstones were found.

“This new radar service aims to significantly reduce the false alarms,” he said.

“We’re aiming to refine warnings so only the storms which need to be warned for large hail are warned for large hail.”

The research is limited to south-east Queensland right now but may expand to other sites where the BOM has dual-pol radar technology.

Cicada blitz

Cherrynose cicada (Macrotrista angularis)

The cyclic call of the cicada is a familiar part of the Australian summer.

Their chorus can be deafening; as loud as a chainsaw or heavy metal concert according to some scientists.

If the cicadas clinging to tree trunks near your place are making a racket, you can add their symphony to The Great Cicada Blitz.

Dr Nathan Emery from the Australian Botanic Garden is using photographs and sound recordings to create a detailed map of the cicada species found around Sydney.

“They’re readily heard in the suburbs and everyone seems to have a story about cicadas from their childhood,” he told Jen Fleming on ABC Radio Sydney.

“I’m trying to rekindle that interest in cicadas for as many people as possible.”

There are more than 350 identified cicada species around Australia, but Dr Emery estimates there could be anywhere between 700 and 1,000.

This means you could discover a new variety by dobbing in your noisy cicada neighbours.

Track your cat

Dr Philip Roetman and model cat Willow

Ever wonder where your cat goes during the day?

The University of South Australia has embarked on a mission to track thousands of domestic cats to find out how far they travel away from home during the day and at night.

It’s an extension of a successful cat-tracking trial in South Australia that monitored the movements of more than 400 frisky felines.

The cat tracks available online are fascinating and well worth a look, even if you don’t own a cat.

Lead researcher Phillip Roetman said the team discovered some cats would travel up to 30 hectares away from their homes.

Rusty the cat with his GPS tracking data

“We’ve found out that cat owners really love to know more about their cats and find out where they go,” he said.

“It’s a missing bit of information they don’t have when they’re making decisions about how to care for their cats and how far they’re going when they’re leaving their house.”

Dr Roetman wants to strap trackers to 1,400 more cats to reveal more about why some wander far from home while others stay close by.

“We wanted to see if that’s a pattern around Australia as well, and we can look in more detail and be more sure about the results if we get a better sample.”

To track your cat’s antics head to the Cat Tracker website and fill out a survey.

Hunt for Planet 9

Artist's impression of 'Planet Nine'

Stargazers everywhere are still searching for Planet 9 — a hypothetical celestial body scientists and astronomers theorise is lurking on the outer edge of our solar system.

Millions of people around the world sifted through images taken by Australia’s SkyMapper telescope to search for evidence of the planet during the ABC’s Stargazing Live program.

Volunteers combed through 120,000 images in three days and helped classify five million celestial objects.

The location of the elusive ninth planet is still a mystery, but astronomers need your help to search for other objects too.

NASA’s Backyard Worlds project is still looking for citizen scientists to search through data from it’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission for brown dwarfs and low-mass stars.

Go to the Zooniverse website to start searching for the next big space discovery.

Finding the elusive platypus


You see them every day on 20-cent coins, but the humble platypus is much harder to spot in the wild.

They’re so shy and quiet that conservationists want the public to any report sightings to help estimate how many of the near-threatened species are still thriving in the wild.

Late winter is the best time to spot a platypus in NSW and the ACT, but the Australian Platypus Conservancy group collects information about sightings all year.

The ACT’s conservation group Waterwatch also runs annual surveys.

Cooma region coordinator Anita Brademann told ABC Radio Canberra that citizen science had the potential to gather valuable baseline data about the secretive animal.

“It’s hard to save a threatened species when it is on its last legs,” Ms Brademann said.

“To assist our ecosystems to be productive and our species to survive, it’s much better to look after things to allow them to breed … before it becomes a threatened species and that’s why this information is so important.”