Growing pains of crowdsourced stream stage monitoring using mobile phones: The development of CrowdHydrology

Frontiers in Earth Science
By: , and 



Citizen science-based approaches to monitor the natural environment tend to be bimodal in maturity. Older and established programs such as the Audubon’s Christmas bird count and Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) have thousands of participants across decades of observations, while less mature citizen science projects have shorter lifespans often focused on local or regional observations with tens or hundreds of participants. For the latter, it can be difficult to transition into a more mature and sustainable citizen science-based research program. This paper focuses on this transition by evaluating CrowdHydrology (ca. 2010), a citizen science project that has transitioned from a regional to national network. It evaluates the data accuracy, citizen participation, and station popularity. The CrowdHydrology network asks citizens to send in text messages of water levels in streams and lakes, which has resulted in 16,294 observations submitted by over 8,000 unique participants at 120 unique locations. Using water level data and participation records from CrowdHydrology, we analyze the expansion and citizen participation from a regional to national citizen science network. We identify barriers to participation and evaluate why some citizen science observation stations are popular while others are not. We explore our chosen contributory program model for CrowdHydrology and the influence this model has had on long-term participation. Results demonstrate a highly variable rate of contributions of citizen scientists. This paper proposes hypotheses on why many of our observations are from one-time participants and why some monitoring stations are more popular than others. Finally, we address the future expansion of the CrowdHydrology network by evaluating successful monitoring locations and growing interest of watershed groups to expand the network of gauges.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Growing pains of crowdsourced stream stage monitoring using mobile phones: The development of CrowdHydrology
Series title Frontiers in Earth Science
DOI 10.3389/feart.2019.00128
Volume 7
Issue 128
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Frontiers in Earth Science
Contributing office(s) Upper Midwest Water Science Center
Description 10 p.
Country United States
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