Earthwatch research intern Avinoam Baruch, 23, is to begin a fully funded PhD this month on citizen scientists and flood risk, at Loughborough University, UK. We spoke with him about how his work on FreshWater Watch inspired his interest in citizen science, and has helped inform his studies.
What’s your background?
I completed my integrated Master’s Degree in Geography at Durham University. I specialised in hydrology and the remote sensing of water quality. I worked on a number of different projects which involved looking at water quality, flooding and different pollution sources, and did lots of work experience that all contributed to that area.
I was offered the internship at Earthwatch after I graduated last summer, which was really good because it builds on from what I did in my Master’s.
What led you to study hydrology?
For me it’s a very interesting field because there are lots of novel ways of tackling key challenges. The success of FreshWater Watch is a great example of how new approaches can be very promising.
What did your work with FreshWater Watch focus on?
I was working on a number of different projects, but mainly I was looking at the data that has been uploaded by citizen scientists. I was analysing it and trying to find patterns and drivers of water quality.
I used geographical software to analyse different patterns. This helped find out what’s happening at the sites where water has been collected, and to see if there were any underlying trends.
What will your PhD explore?
The PhD project is entitled Crowd-sourcing Geographical Data for Flood Risk Management. I intend to investigate how members of the public can contribute good quality data that helps with flood risk management. There are lots of different ways we can approach this. I am at the stage of defining the scope of my project.
What’s your interest in citizen science?
I have a strong interest in citizen science as it is proving highly useful for a large number of projects. I particularly like how it provides new information which can help solve existing problems. It also helps get ordinary citizens interested and passionate about the work you are doing. This is clearly a growing field as there are so many new initiatives being set up. For example, I was recently at the American Geophysical Union Fall conference in San Francisco where researchers have just set up a large forum to help scientists from a range of backgrounds share information about their experiences in this field.
Will you connect with Earthwatch again in the future?
I’m currently working on a paper on FreshWater Watch, looking at global stressors of water quality. I hope to find other ways of staying connected.