Mapping, analyzing, and communicating citizen science data in ArcGIS Online

09-09-2019 02:49 AM
Esri Frequent Contributor
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Esri and the GLOBE program (Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment - have been working together on initiatives and educator training for decades.  Globe was one of the first major education-focused citizen science programs, and it offers a wealth of data on soil chemistry, water quality, weather, and much more, as well as rigorously tested methods to have your students collect and contribute data, and a network of educators with which to collaborate.  Recently, two GLOBE educators asked me to conduct a webinar for their educators and students, and I documented the highlights in this video.  I have written about this topic before, documented on the GLOBE site here, and as an essay in GeoNet here, but in this recent webinar, I expanded and updated these explanations to include what I consider to include key elements of a project-based workflow:  (1) Obtaining the data > (2) mapping the data > (3)  Analyzing the data, and > (4) creating communications tools from the data.

To gather citizen science data, you can use the Globe Observer app, iNaturalist, Survey123 from Esri, or another app.  You can use probes such as those from Pasco, Hanna Instruments, Vernier, or another company; or you can even go "old school" and use clipboards and pencils.  I believe all of these tools have value in education, and in this essay, I describe 6 ways to gather and map your field data.  The most important thing is that you end up with a spreadsheet of data, generated from your app or probe, or one you generate yourself from your clipboard notes.   This spreadsheet becomes the "I", or "Information", part of your GIS. The spreadsheet needs to contain some sort of location, such as street address, or ideally, latitude-longitude values.  In the video and webinar I obtained the data from the Advanced Data Access Tool (GLOBE Advanced Data Access Tools ) and selected the region, time frame, and theme--in my case, mosquito larvae data.  Download the data; in the case of GLOBE data, it is offered as a CSV (Comma Separated Value) table. Oftentimes, data tables need to be edited slightly for ease of use in your mapping software.  In my case, I brought the data into Excel, I removed the second header line, as only one is required, removed extraneous records at the end of the table, and formatted the numeric data for be "integer" or "floating point" numbers as needed.  Once done, I saved the spreadsheet as a CSV file, shown below, linked here, and attached if you would like to use it. 

Globe data table

Now for the fun and fascinating part!  In ArcGIS Online (, I signed in to my organizational subscription, went to my content, and added the CSV, creating a feature service from the data.  After giving it some tags and other metadata so that I could more easily find it later, and if I share it, so others could be more informed about my data, I then opened up the feature service in the map viewer. Once in the map viewer, I can now symbolize the points by elevation, date collected, number of eggs found, whether larvae were found or not, and on other fields in my data table.  I could make a heat map showing density of the collected points. I can also change the base map and zoom into and study specific locations on a satellite image, or at a regional or national scale, add data such as precipitation, ecoregions, population density, river systems, or other layers from ArcGIS Online and the Living Atlas of the World.  I can add fields, sort fields, and select specific data points to study further.  While doing all this, I am thinking about patterns, relationships, and trends of my data.  I can also use the spatial analysis tools, such as proximity, map overlay, routing, creating maps of statistical significant difference, and summarizing.  In my case, for example, I added a point as a map note on Minneapolis St Paul, and then summarized the number of data points within 250 km of that location.   Once done, I saved and shared my map and layers so others can examine them.  See screen shot below and also this link for the map

Map in ArcGIS Online of Globe Mosquito Data

Map in ArcGIS Online of Globe Mosquito Data.

Next, I created communications tools from this data.  Many such tools exist, and I chose to focus on story maps and operations dashboards.  The ones I created are shown below and linked here (story map) (Operations Dashboard).  ArcGIS story maps are multimedia web mapping applications, and Esri Operations Dashboards allow you to create graphs, maps, widgets, and other tools for you to monitor your data in real-time.  These were straightforward to make--once I shared the data in ArcGIS Online, I selected these two tools, choosing a map series story map, with different tabs showing different attributes of the data.  In my operations dashboard, I created a gauge that pointed to the number of points currently in my data set, along with the ArcGIS Online map, and graphs indicating where the mosquitos were found and if eggs were discovered.  If I add to my map in the future, the data in my dashboard automatically updates. 

Story map of Globe mosquito data

Series story map of Globe Data showing spatial analysis results.

Operations Dashboard of Globe data.

Operations Dashboard of Globe Data.

I encourage you to do even more wonderful things with spatial data, such as that from citizen science portals including, and elsewhere, to better understand the patterns, relationships, and trends, and to consider how you can contribute to the scientific community through your efforts!

About the Author
I believe that spatial thinking can transform education and society through the application of Geographic Information Systems for instruction, research, administration, and policy. I hold 3 degrees in Geography, have served at NOAA, the US Census Bureau, and USGS as a cartographer and geographer, and teach a variety of F2F (Face to Face) (including T3G) and online courses. I have authored a variety of books and textbooks about the environment, STEM, GIS, and education. These include "Interpreting Our World", "Essentials of the Environment", "Tribal GIS", "The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data", "International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning with GIS In Secondary Education", "Spatial Mathematics" and others. I write for 2 blogs, 2 monthly podcasts, and a variety of journals, and have created over 5,000 videos on the Our Earth YouTube channel. Yet, as time passes, the more I realize my own limitations and that this is a lifelong learning endeavor and thus I actively seek mentors and collaborators.