Alaska’s changing climate spurs increased public involvement in scientific research

As the climate continues to change — especially in Alaska — people want to learn more and get involved.

One avenue for increased involvement is public participation in scientific research, a powerful tool for climate communication and learning. 

Participants in climate change related projects can learn how science is done. They also increase their own understanding of science and help generate new knowledge that could go beyond the scope of the initial research. 

Katie Spellman, an IARC research assistant professor, elaborated on the virtues of public participation during the 2019 American Geophysical Union meeting Dec. 9-13 in San Francisco.

Spellman shared insights from a needs assessment and evaluation that informed the program design of the Arctic and Earth SIGNs and Winterberry-Arctic Harvest projects. SIGNs (STEM Integrating GLOBE and NASA) connects youth and adults to climate change and Earth science learning through scientific investigations and community stewardship projects. In Winterberry, UAF scientists and community volunteers study how shifting seasons could affect the availability of berries for animals and people.  

These projects were created as Alaska has experienced rapid and unprecedented environmental change. Their target audiences include Alaska Native elders and students of all ages, from many parts of Alaska. 

However, it has still been challenging to increase participant diversity across demographic groups.  Citizen science in the North has a reputation for lack of diversity — “dudes on ice,” as Spellman put it. Incorporating storytelling into research can increase diversity because everyone has a story to tell or create. It involves a greater variety of people and helps them feel more a part of the science process.