Help environmental research without even leaving your desk!

Sarah West
OPAL Community Scientist, Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York

In case you hadn't noticed, we're living in a digital age. We can shop online, meet new people online, watch TV and listen to radio online, and now we can also take part in citizen science projects online.

Zooniverse have been running online citizen science projects online for years now. They began with Galaxy Zoo, getting thousands of participants to classify the shapes of images of galaxies taken by Hubble, and now run a whole host of different projects.

Their latest is Notes from Nature and I couldn't resist having a go. The aim is to digitise labels from natural history collections, including herbaria (plant records). Herbaria are basically sheets of paper with a plant specimen attached and a label saying what the plant is and where, when and who collected it.

Usually herbaria are stored in museums which are inaccessible to many people, but now these collections have been photographed for anyone to see. The role of you at your computer is to look at these photographs and transcribe what the label says. This will allow the specimens to be searched through more easily and used for research into issues such as environmental change.

Others are also doing similar projects, Herbaria @ Home has been run by the Botanical Society of the British Isles since 2006 and their volunteers have documented nearly 125,000 herbaria specimens, see to take part.

My hope for these projects is that people will take part and be inspired to go down to their local museum to see what they have lurking in their collections, to help preserve them, perhaps digitise them, or use them as part of their studies. It'll be interesting to see how it progresses.