Community scientists track climate change, blaze new paths of communication

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Climate change brings new challenges and with those come a demand for information to help natural resource-based communities. Collaboration between researchers, community scientists and the Oregon State University Extension Service is a promising approach to meeting this information and communication challenge.

Oregon Season Tracker (OST), a joint project of OSU Extension, community scientists and the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest Long Term Ecological Research Program, aims to broaden discussion and understanding about climate science by linking natural resource managers, educators, researchers and others in the community to the science they use through collaborative community science. OST community scientist volunteers gather scientific data on precipitation and seasonal plant changes (phenology) at their home, woodland, farm, ranch or school to share with research partners both locally and nationally. Volunteers contribute to the scientific efforts while learning about climate change, which they can apply to management of their property.

The project is meant to: generate data of interest to national and local teams studying ecology and climate change, strengthen the connections between researchers, educators, natural resource managers and the public; and bring scientific depth to Extension’s efforts. It is based in Benton, Linn and Polk counties, but has reached volunteers in other counties through grants, invitations and online activities.

In response to COVID-19 pandemic, Oregon season Tracker switched from a hybrid training format to an entirely online format in 2020. This featured a self-paced online training focusing on precipitation observation, followed by elective participation in a live Zoom meeting to review and hone skills learned in the online training, and to build a volunteer community. Through an outreach effort, 97 new participants took the online training and and three new counties were added: Curry, Douglas and Tillamook. 

Since 2014, OST community scientists have accounted for 231 unique registered rain gauge stations in 21 counties, tracking precipitation with the OST program and the Community Collaborative Rain Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) national database.

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