Scientists are recruiting Alaskans to help them track berry patches

"This work is an attempt to empower participation in scientific research and make it more accessible and useful to Alaska and Arctic communities," said researcher Katie Spellman.
By Brooks Hays  |  Aug. 17, 2017 at 11:06 AM
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Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Scientists in Alaska are using this year's berry season to engage with the public and inspire a new generation of citizen scientists. Researchers are recruiting Alaskans to help them track berry patches across the state.

Participants will be responsible for not only collecting the data, but also coming up with creative ways to organize and use the data. The effort -- supported by the National Science Foundation and dubbed "Winterberry" -- is less about crowdsourcing data collection and more about democratizing the science, marrying science and community.

"Berries are an important resource for so many of us," principal investigator Katie Spellman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks International Arctic Research Center, said in a news release. "This work is an attempt to empower participation in scientific research and make it more accessible and useful to Alaska and Arctic communities."

Project leaders are working in communities across the state to train volunteers. Researchers are engaging with all kinds of groups and people -- school children, farmers, community elders and others.

Participants will map and track berry patches, plotting the ripening process through the end of the summer and their gradual disappearance in the fall and winter. When combined with weather data, the research could be used to better understand the seeming unpredictable patterns of berry harvests.

Some studies have suggested Alaska's wild berry harvests are becoming harder to predict.

In the wake of the data collection process, project leaders will help volunteer groups engage with the data and find creative ways to tell stories using the science.

"Scientists have gotten too far from sharing stories that are meaningful to people," Spellman said. "But it's been coming back around as science communication has become more important. In the end, what makes science usable are the stories you can tell from the data and observations."

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