Thursday, 21 August 2014

CEH scientists collaborating with global freshwater citizen science programme

CEH scientists working on a project investigating water pollution in urban areas have teamed up with Earthwatch to train citizen scientists in carrying out water quality monitoring. The collaboration has come about via Earthwatch’s Freshwater Watch programme, which aims to study fresh water quality around the globe by engaging employees from participating organisations as citizen scientists.

The POLLCURB project, led by CEH, is looking at how water pollution relates to change in urban areas, in particular change brought about by population growth, and what it may mean for water quality and quantity in the future.

POLLCURB is collaborating with the Earthwatch programme by training citizen scientists, in this case employees from Shell, to monitor water quality in the river Thames and two of its tributaries, the Mole and Ember, using a handheld multiparameter probe.

CEH's Mike Hutchins (centre) teaching participants
how to use the probe. Photo: Richard Sylvester / Earthwatch.

Dr Mike Hutchins of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is lead investigator on POLLCURB. At a recent citizen science training day at Wimbledon Common, Mike gave an overview of the project before teaching the budding citizen scientists from Shell how to use the monitoring probe, taking them into the field to gain first-hand practice.

Probe dunking. Photo: Richard Sylvester / Earthwatch.

The participants will visit the Thames sites several times over the next six months to collect data on temperature, turbidity, organic matter, algae and oxygen levels, producing a monthly dataset for each location. As well as collecting data for POLLCURB, they are also carrying out Freshwater Watch’s global parameters at each of the sites, which include collection data on nutrient levels.

Looking at the data collected. Photo: Richard Sylvester / Earthwatch.

Mike told us a little more about the value of the collaboration. He explained, "As POLLCURB is investigating how urban growth influences local water bodies I am keen to get people living in those very towns and cities involved and, in particular, for them to have the opportunity to use some of the equipment that professional scientists are currently using on a day-to-day basis.

"The data the citizen scientists are collecting will benefit me, in terms of improving the models I am using to predict river water quality, and also regulators, who will gain further knowledge of some specific rivers of interest to them."

Looking at results. Photo: Richard Sylvester / Earthwatch

Mike added, "The project with Earthwatch / Shell is flexible and I hope will gain some of its own momentum. There is potential to expand the number of sites or increase the frequency of visits, and also I am particularly enthusiastic about the scope for participants to monitor other local water bodies in which they may have a particular personal interest."

Earthwatch and CEH collaborators at one of the monitoring sites on the
Thames near Hampton Court. Photo: Mike Hutchins / CEH.

For more detailed information on the POLLCURB project, visit the project website.

Additional information

FreshWater Water has already recruited more than 1700 citizen scientists in over two dozen cities around the world. Data collected are uploaded to

Staff page and research interests of Dr Mike Hutchins, CEH

More about the citizen science training day from Earthwatch

Posted by Paulette Burns, Media Coordinator

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