The Drought Impact Reporter as a Framework for Citizen Science

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Monday, 3 February 2014: 11:15 AM
Room C107 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Kelly Helm Smith, National Drought Mitigation Center, Lincoln, NE; and M. D. Svoboda, H. Reges, D. Gutzmer, Q. Guan, C. C. Poulsen, R. Li, S. Owen, and M. J. Hayes

The Drought Impact Reporter went online in 2005 to establish a nationwide archive of drought's effects on the economy, ecosystems and people. A web-based map was the main way to access the archive, which was and still is updated in near-real time. For purposes of the DIR, an impact is considered “an observable loss or change that occurred at a specific place and time because of drought.” For these purposes, impacts go beyond immediate physical effects, such as lack of soil moisture or low reservoir levels, to the economic, environmental or social effect produced by those physical conditions. Reduced crop yields, reduced fish populations and reduced water deliveries are all considered impacts. Moderators at the National Drought Mitigation Center populated the Drought Impact Reporter with impacts culled primarily from media reports, discovered through an electronic clipping service. Users including farmers and ranchers, agency personnel and others could also submit impacts. The initial version of the tool provided many valuable insights into the challenges inherent in identifying drought impacts, notably uncertainty and differences of opinion as to what constituted useful impact information and how to use condition reports that might point to an impending impact.

The second version of the tool, with a new map and search interfaced launched in 2011, differentiates between impacts and reports. All information enters the DIR as a report, and moderators evaluate the information to decide whether it meets the criteria of an impact. A more robust database, implemented in 2008, allows for several separate streams of data to feed into the DIR, which can be separately informative. Impacts and reports can be mapped separately or together, with impacts displayed as affected areas, down to county level, and reports displaying as circles over the point of origin or as affected areas. Displaying the point of origin may help identify rural areas that are under-represented. Although the majority of reports in the DIR are still from media stories entered by a dedicated moderator, an increasing proportion comes from observers who submit drought reports as part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS). The DIR as it is presently configured may provide a useful framework for other, more local networks of observers to monitor features of their environment that are affected by drought.