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Zooniverse: Plankton Portal

Zooniverse: Plankton Portal

Plankton are a critically important food source and play an important role in the global carbon cycle. This cycle captures the sun’s energy and the atmosphere’s CO2 at the surface of the ocean and releases it to other organisms and other areas of the ocean.

Zooniverse’s Plankton Portal shows citizen scientists one of millions of plankton images taken by the In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS), a unique underwater robot engineered at the University of Miami. ISIIS operates as an ocean scanner that casts the shadow of tiny and transparent oceanic creatures onto a very high-resolution digital sensor at very high frequency.

The dataset used for Plankton Portal comes a period of just three days in Fall 2010. In three days, researchers collected so much data that would take more than three years to analyze it themselves. That’s why they need help from citizen scientists. A computer will probably be able to tell the difference between major classes of organisms, such as a shrimp versus a jellyfish, but to distinguish different species within an order or family, that is still best done by the human eye.

Project Details

  • PRINCIPAL SCIENTIST: Robert Cowen
  • SCIENTIST AFFILIATION: University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences/Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center
  • DATES: Ongoing
  • PROJECT TYPE: Data Processing
  • COST: Free
  • GRADE LEVEL: All Ages
  • TIME COMMITMENT: Variable
  • HOW TO JOIN:

    If you want to help, you can visit the Plankton Portal Web site. A field guide is provided, and there is a simple tutorial. The science team will be on Plankton Portal Talk to answer any questions, and the project is also on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

See more projects in FreeData ProcessingAll Ages.

What Is Citizen Science?

Research often involves teams of scientists collaborating across continents. Now, using the power of the Internet, non-specialists are participating, too. Citizen Science falls into many categories. A pioneering project was SETI@Home, which has harnessed the idle computing time of millions of participants in the search for extraterrestrial life. Citizen scientists also act as volunteer classifiers of heavenly objects, such as in Galaxy Zoo. They make observations of the natural world, as in The Great Sunflower Project. And they even solve puzzles to design proteins, such as FoldIt. We'll add projects regularly—and please tell us about others you like as well.

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