8B.3 A New System for Drought Impacts Monitoring and Reporting Using Citizen Science

Wednesday, 28 June 2017: 9:00 AM
Mt. Roan (Crowne Plaza Tennis and Golf Resort)
Kirsten Lackstrom, Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments, Columbia, SC; and A. Farris and R. V. Ward

Currently, drought impacts data is not as well integrated into drought monitoring and management as other data provided by objective drought indices. However, drought decision makers have suggested that on-the-ground monitoring could enhance management by contributing to a more robust understanding of how and when drought impacts manifest at local to regional scales. Such monitoring would include information about the effects of drought on water resources, agriculture, natural resources, human health, and businesses such as those associated with recreation and tourism. In order to improve observational drought impacts monitoring and reporting, the Carolinas Integrated Sciences & Assessments (CISA) research team has supported the development of a network of citizen science volunteers to provide weekly reports about the effects of precipitation, or a lack thereof, on their local environments and communities. Volunteers submit these weekly reports along with daily precipitation measurements through the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow (CoCoRaHS) network website. In contrast to intermittent drought impacts reporting, the “condition monitoring” approach is intended to create a baseline of information to more easily identify drought onset, intensification, and recovery.

In the initial pilot phase of the project (2013-2015) 66 observers across North Carolina and South Carolina submitted >1500 condition monitoring reports. Interviews with local-, state-, and national-level drought decision makers were conducted in 2015 to assess the usefulness of the reports for drought monitoring. Based on the positive feedback, CISA partnered with CoCoRaHS in 2016 to implement suggested modifications to the project. First, CISA created an experimental web map to depict these community-level, condition monitoring reports. The web map spatially displays the reports and provides other contextual information such as the current US Drought Monitor map to facilitate drought assessments. Second, a condition monitoring scale bar was incorporated into the online report form to allow observers to provide a snapshot of conditions ranging from severely dry to severely wet. The scale bar selection is designated by a colored triangle on the web map to allow users to easily identify where conditions may be degrading or improving. CoCoRaHS incorporated the scale bar into a new condition monitoring report form launched in October 2016. This new form replaces the former drought impact report form and is available to all CoCoRaHS observers nationally. Within the first four months of the scale bar launch (October 2016-January 2017), >5900 condition monitoring reports had been submitted nationally, of which >750 came from CoCoRaHS observers in the Carolinas.

In order to continue to assess the utility of condition monitoring reports for drought decision making, the CISA team has launched a second phase of project evaluation focused on the new tools (web map, scale bar) introduced in 2016. Focused on the Carolinas, this presentation provides findings from the various evaluation components, including surveys with citizen science volunteers about their perspectives on the project and interviews with decision makers about the credibility, reliability, and usefulness of the condition monitoring reports via the web map. A third component of the evaluation compares the conditions indicated by the citizen scientists through their scale bar selections with commonly used objective drought indicators (e.g., SPI, SPEI, PDSI). Assessed holistically, these evaluation findings provide insights into best practices, and next steps, to facilitate a more systematic approach to the collection and use of drought impacts information for drought monitoring and management.

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