‘Citizen scientists’ inform climate policy in South Florida
Climate change adaptation | Florida, US
Part of the ‘Sunshine State’, South Florida has the only tropical climate in the US.- and climate change is having multiple effects on the region.
Rising sea levels are leading to higher tides, more frequent storms and flooding. But South Florida also suffers from extreme heat, which prevents people from leading an active lifestyle outside, has led to more hospitalisations, and has even been linked to deaths.
Previous underreporting of flooding and high temperature – both in terms of their frequency and intensity – has resulted in inadequate design of the built environment and lack of policy measures. This compromises the long-term economy, as well as the health and general quality of life of local residents.
The innovative project
The South-east Florida Regional Citizen Science Climate Action Network (CSCAN) was set up to train citizens and students to gather data on flooding and heat. Working on a hyper-local scale, their findings can inform climate adaptation policy that addresses multiple challenges across the region.
These ‘citizen scientists’ learn to use scientific sampling equipment and smartphone technology to document and transmit their observations and measurements to a centralised database. For flooding, they gather data on location, depth, and water quality. For heat, they gather temperature and humidity metrics. To date, the programme has produced at least 300 flood observations and over half a million temperature observations. These are converted to flooding and heat statistics, creating maps that are used by partners for local adaptation efforts and advocacy.
In 2020, The Florida International University partnered with the University of Miami for their expertise in oceanography and atmospheric science, and with Miami-Dade College for their experience with unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flood monitoring. These research organisations work together to develop products that are used by local government and community partners to help affected communities adapt to changing climate.
The partnership has expanded to include community organisations . Many of these engage disadvantaged Black and Haitian communities living in some of the most affected conditions (such as high-rise buildings and housing in flood areas) in environmental justice and climate education, training them as ‘citizen scientists’ to advocate for climate adaptation measures that improve welfare.
Other local community organisations also advocate for access to clean water for all, as well as amplifying community voices and supporting action among socio-economically distressed people. .
Local government collaboration and leadership among these partners is strong, enabling a fast track from information collection to climate adaptation projects and policy interventions.
The partnership also actively involves over 1,000 citizens from 34 local municipalities.
The citizen data has been used to develop local projects and policy interventions that address the multiple hazards challenging the region. It helped motivate the County Mayor to appoint the first Chief Heat Officer in the United States. And it has made first-time scientists of nearly 500 South-east Florida citizens and students.
Each year, the geographic reach of CSCAN continues to expand to include new locations and partners.