Dundee to lead The GROW Observatory – an EU-wide 'citizen science' project

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5 September 2016

The GROW Observatory – an EU-wide 'citizen science' project for growers, gardeners, small and family farmers, and space scientists

The GROW Observatory is a massive, European-wide project aiming to involve tens of thousands of ‘citizen scientists’ that will empower growers with knowledge on sustainable practices and make a vital contribution to global environmental monitoring.

Together they will solve key challenge for environmental monitoring – the ability to measure soil moisture at high spatial resolution over large geographical areas – whilst sharing knowledge on growing in different regions. The aim will be to increase small-scale food production and preserve the soil quality for future generations, whilst improving forecasting of extreme climate events, such as heat waves and floods.

Led by the University of Dundee and including partners across Europe, the GROW Observatory has received funding of €5million over the next three years through the European Commission's Horizon 2020 programme. The project starts on 1st November 2016, and will engage growers and citizen scientists to help co-create the experiments during the 2017 growing season.

GROW aims to underpin smart and sustainable custodianship of land and soil, with a view to meeting the future demands of food production. It also aims to answer a long-standing challenge for space science - by helping to validate the detection of soil moisture from satellites. GROW will look at how this data can contribute to services and applications that help forecast and prepare for extreme climate events, such as heat waves and floods.

“This is citizen science on an unprecedented scale” said Dr Drew Hemment, who is leading the project from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, part of the University of Dundee. “People taking part will collaborate to create and share information on soil, the land, on crops - what to plant, when to plant them and how to do it. They will be able to develop knowledge and skills on soil and growing for food, and take practical steps to preserve the soil for future generations.”

To achieve this GROW will combine low cost sensing technology combined with citizens' own devices, a simple soil test, innovative data handling and an online education platform to mobilise large numbers of citizens across Europe.

“The vision is to support the emergence of a movement of citizens sharing data and knowledge on growing and the land, to increase access to affordable food, preserve the soil for future generations, and solve a major challenge for science,” said Dr Hemment. “GROW will build a community of thousands of growers, gardeners, smallholders and citizen scientists across Europe to harness the collective power of shared and open data and knowledge.

“Do you grow your own food? Do you have an allotment? Own a small farm? Or have a community or school garden? Do you want to develop your knowledge and skills on soil and growing for food, and take practical steps to preserve the soil for future generations? Or collaborate with thousands of people to solve a longstanding challenge for space science?

“If the answer to any of these questions is `yes' then GROW is a project we hope people will really engage with. This will be a platform and community for large scale citizen science that aims to empower growers with knowledge on sustainable practices and make a vital contribution to global environmental monitoring.

“The outcome will be a hub of open knowledge and data created and maintained by growers that will be of value to the citizens themselves as well as specialist communities in science, policy and industry. GROW will generate, share and utilise information on land, soil and water resource at a resolution hitherto not previously considered.

“By providing our community with simple testing kits and technology, we can gather information across the continent on a range of parameters relevant to growing. So we will have a Europe-wide network with citizen scientists at the heart of it, working alongside policymakers and scientists.

“We can then share knowledge and advice across our community, as well as using it to inform wider science and research.”

GROW presents its first public event on 10th September near Rome, running a workshop at a gathering of committed growers from across European to discover the challenges it can help them to address. Details of upcoming job opportunities at The GROW Observatory can be found at www.growobservatory.org

Background

The European Commission through Horizon 2020 is supporting the development of an ecosystem of Citizen Observatories. The vision is to create a movement around environmental observations to inform and empower citizens to participate in environmental decision making, leading towards more inclusive, sustainable and smart economic development.

Citizen science has a long history, and increasing availability of smartphones and low-cost sensing technologies has opened up new possibilities for collaborative data collection and sense making.

The world faces the challenge of producing sufficient high-quality food while reducing carbon emissions and preserving the quality of land and soil resources.

A key challenge for environmental monitoring is the ability to measure soil moisture at high spatial resolution over large geographical areas.

GROW will offer:

  1. Simple, fun experiments to do with friends, family or your community.
  2. Low cost but high power consumer sensing technology, a simple to use soil testing kit, and easy applications, to lower barriers to entry.
  3. A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to enable scaling of rigorous citizen science.
  4. Engagement underpinned by storytelling and community champions.

Partners

A community of institutes, associations, companies and individuals have come together to create GROW:

  • University of Dundee
  • International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
  • Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations
  • Met Office
  • Hydrologic Research
  • Starlab
  • FutureEverything
  • European Network for Community-Led Action on Climate Change and Sustainability (ECOLISE)
  • Cultivate
  • CulturePolis
  • Parrot
  • James Hutton Institute
  • Vienna University of Technology
  • Thingful
  • Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia
  • Storythings
  • University of Miskolc
  • The Forest Trust

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme 2014-2018 under grant agreement No 690199.


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