This Is Science?
Climbers check for microscopic life on rocks at high altitudes. Bikers search for garlic mustard, an invasive weed. Mountaineers collect the highest-growing plant life on Earth from the slopes of Mount Everest.
Why are adventurers getting side jobs in science? They’re part of a group of roughly 300 explorers who are teaming up with researchers. They help collect data for scientific studies as they explore remote places. An organization called Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) matches scientists with all types of outdoor explorers. Hikers, skiers, and bikers, to name a few, join in the search for data.
Montana biologist Gregg Treinish has hiked the 2,181- mile Appalachian Trail in the eastern U.S. He also completed the first-ever trek of the entire Andes Mountain Range in South America. But after these adventures, Treinish realized that people like him could help build knowledge about the planet while they are out enjoying it. He started ASC in 2011.
“Scientists are limited by funding, time, and skill level,” says Treinish. “By pairing them with adventurers, we expand their ability to quickly gather information across the world at little cost.”
Adventurers have helped with research on all seven continents through ASC. But it’s not just skilled adventurers who take part. Regular people—including kids—contribute too.
This year, middle school students from Oakland, California, will hike to look for pikas, the smallest members of the rabbit family. What they find will help a researcher at the Craighead Institute in Montana who is studying this animal. Students from Missoula, Montana, will track grizzly bears for a different project.
These people are all part of a trend called citizen science, in which regular people help build scientific knowledge.
“Citizens are going to become an important part of how we learn about the planet,” says Treinish.
Treinish receives two to three requests each day from people who want to help. He expects that number to grow. He hopes to arrange thousands of expeditions each year through ASC.
“Our goal,” he says, “is to have everybody thinking about how they can contribute [to science] when they’re outside.”