Many communities in Canada’s North are increasingly performing their own environmental monitoring. Community-based water monitoring has numerous benefits:
However, community-based water monitoring still often suffers from a major challenge: while increasingly easy to collect, data are often not fully utilized for stewardship and decision-making. This is due to multiple factors such as inconsistencies in spatial or temporal sampling, some scientists’ lack of trust in citizen-gathered data, or difficulties in sharing and deriving meaning from collected data.
GWC aims to better connect data collected by citizen scientists with scientific modelling and forecasting. While other researchers, including some at Laurier, are helping train community members as citizen scientists and assisting in the implementation of community-based environmental monitoring programs such as Indigenous Guardians, GWC focuses primarily on enriching and making use of the data collected in these programs.
For example, the team has created a web-based tool that allows anyone to upload their own water quality monitoring data and compare it to reference data from an official station. Such tools could help close the gaps between data collection, understanding and insight.
To help community members and other researchers better understand the data being collected, the GWC team is also developing tools and apps that enable the easy visualization and exploration of environmental data. These tools will allow communities to quickly see the significance of the science they do without having to wait for an external scientist to analyze data and create a report.
To help scientists make more and better use of community-based water monitoring data, the researchers are building and testing new methods of standardizing and combining multiple data sets, as well as tools to combine community-based observations with other information, such as satellite data.
All of these tool could be applied in the future to build robust community-based water monitoring in locations around the world or environmental monitoring programs focusing on topics other than water.
The GWC team consists of researchers from a number of universities, working in partnership with organizations including Mackenzie DataStream, an open access platform for sharing information on freshwater health; the Government of the Northwest Territories, which has a longstanding research partnership with Laurier; and a number of First Nations governments in the Northwest Territories.