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Front. Earth Sci. | doi: 10.3389/feart.2019.00128

Growing Pains of Crowdsourced Stream Stage Monitoring using Mobile Phones: The Development of CrowdHydrology

 Christopher S. Lowry1*, Michael N. Fienen2,  Damon M. Hall3 and Kristine F. Stepenuck4
  • 1University at Buffalo, United States
  • 2Upper Midwest Water Science Center, United States Geological Survey, United States
  • 3University of Missouri, United States
  • 4University of Vermont, United States

Citizen science-based approaches to monitor the natural environment tend to be bimodal in maturity. Older and established studies such as the Audubon’s Christmas bird count and Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) have thousands of participants across decades of observations, while less mature citizen science projects have shorter lifespans often focused on local or regional observations with tens or hundreds of participants. For the latter, it can be difficult to transition into a more mature and sustainable citizen science-based research project. This research focuses on this transition by evaluating CrowdHydrology (ca. 2010), a citizen science project that has transitioned from a regional to national network. The CrowdHydrology network asks citizens to send in text messages of water levels in streams and lakes, which has resulted in 16,294 observations submitted by over 8,000 unique participants. Using water level data and participation records from CrowdHydrology, we evaluate the expansion and citizen participation from a regional to national citizen science initiative. We identify barriers to entry to participation and evaluate why some citizen science observation stations are popular while others are not. We explore our chosen contributory program model for CrowdHydrology and the influence this model has had on long-term participation. Results demonstrate a highly variable rate of contributions of citizen scientists and address why many of our observations are from one-time participants. Finally, we address the future expansion of the CrowdHydrology network by evaluating current successful monitoring locations and recent expansion of interest from watershed groups to participate in the project.

Keywords: citizen science, crowdsourcing, hydrology, Stream Stage, CrowdHydrology

Received: 30 Oct 2018; Accepted: 13 May 2019.

Edited by:

Jonathan D. Paul, Imperial College London, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Joern Lauterjung, German Research Centre for Geosciences, Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, Germany
Stefano Martellos, University of Trieste, Italy  

Copyright: © 2019 Lowry, Fienen, Hall and Stepenuck. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Christopher S. Lowry, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, United States,