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  • Be part of a worldwide movement and use Global Earth Challenge to submit or classify photos to help our planet’s environment and human health.

    Global Earth Challenge is a citizen science campaign that uses technology like smartphones and machine learning to create a globally accessible tool with which anyone can collect, review and learn about issues such as:

    • plastic pollution
    • insect populations
    • air quality
    • food sustainability.
    Rights: EARTHDAY.ORG

    Global Earth Challenge logo

    The Global Earth Challenge citizen science project is a global partnership coordinated by EARTHDAY.ORG, the Wilson Center and the US Department of State.


    Reach: Worldwide

    Nature of science focus: Online citizen science (OCS) projects can be used to develop any of the Nature of Science (NoS) substrands. Identify aspects of NoS that your students need to get better at or understand more fully and then frame your unit to be very clear about these things when you do them. For example, this project could provide opportunities to discuss why scientists need help with this work, linking to the NoS Understanding about science.

    Science capability focus: Gather and interpret data, Engage with science

    Science focus: Environmental science, pollution, plastics, insects, air quality, food, sustainability

    Some suggested science concepts:

    • Plastic can be grouped into different types based on its properties.
    • Plastic pollution has environmental impacts
    • Insects are important pollinators and play an essential role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. A decline in population numbers will have an impact on ecosystems.
    • Changes in habitat can affect the survival of living organisms in an area and the relationships between them.
    • The increase in polluting air particulates has impacts on both the health of humans and our planet.
    • A stable and sustainable global food supply is dependent on a healthy environment.

    Many concepts could be learned – focusing on a few can often be more powerful. Develop your learning outcomes and success criteria from these concepts as well as the Nature of Science strand and the science capabilities.

    Some examples of learning outcomes:

    Students can:

    • describe actions that they could take to help lessen plastic pollution and help protect insects
    • explain the importance of pollinators within ecosystems
    • discuss the interconnectedness of pollinators and food supply
    • explain why science requires detailed observation
    • discuss the need for a stable and sustainable global food supply to feed the world’s growing population
    • discuss how the logged information could be used by scientists and policy makers
    • reflect on their personal awareness of issues around air quality and food supply – have they changed over time?
    Rights: EARTHDAY.ORG

    The Global Earth Challenge app

    The Earth Challenge citizen science app aims to empower people to monitor threats to the environment and human health in their communities and drive meaningful environmental action. The open data platform makes it easier for researchers to find and access high-quality information and use citizen science data for policy assessments.

    About the Global Earth Challenge project

    22 April 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. To continue building on one of the world’s largest environmental movements, Earth Day partnered with the Wilson Center and the US Department of State to launch the world’s largest coordinated citizen science campaign, Earth Challenge 2020 – now known as the Global Earth Challenge.

    This initiative challenges millions of people from around the world to collect more than a billion datapoints in the areas of air quality, insect population, food sustainability and plastic pollution.

    Download the Global Earth Challenge app from Google Play or the Apple App Store (currently not available).

    Rights: EARTHDAY.ORG

    Global Earth Challenge topics

    Currently, the Global Earth Challenge citizen science app has four research topics: plastic pollution, air quality, insect population and food supply.

    Research topics

    In 2016, Global Earth Challenge launched a crowdsourcing call for people around the world to tell them “the most important questions in human and environmental health”. After analysing responses, the team selected six main research areas. For each area, voluntary advisory boards – research teams – advise on specific protocols for data collection and sharing. Each research area is also evaluated for alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

    Currently, there are four topics that are part of this citizen science app.

    What is the extent of plastic pollution?

    Students take photos of plastic pollution anywhere they see it and then upload them to the app. This informs scientists of the areas with the most pollution and the most common plastic types in an area. Classifying photos of the plastic pollution helps train the artificial intelligence (AI) to recognise the various types of plastic pollution.

    Help track air quality

    Take photos of the horizon in your area. Using these photos, scientists are able to identify levels of fine airborne particulate matter across the horizon. Whilst these particulates are too small to be identified with the human eye, algorithms help scientists make identifications.

    Insect population changes

    The global decline in insect populations could have significant impacts on our planet’s biodiversity and ecosystem as many insects are important pollinators. Help sort insect species by collecting data for studies focusing on particular at-risk species such as bees and butterflies.

    Food sustainability

    Sustainable food production is important for both human consumption and our environment. Classifying photos of crops will enable scientists to understand what – and where – crops are being grown with the goal of improving sustainable farming practices.

    Using the app

    Under Learn, there is information about the topic and links to various resources such as quizzes, educational activities and more, depending on the topic selected.

    Capture is a ready-to-go feature utilising your device’s camera.

    In Classify, you choose to receive images based on the research topic you select. By using a range of classification methods, you decide which category the image belongs to. This helps researchers to improve the artificial intelligence machine-learning algorithms.

    There are plans to add two more topics in the future: What is in my drinking water? and What are the local impacts of climate change?

    Related content

    The Science Learning Hub worked with the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor on the article Rethinking plastics. This includes the interactive timeline Plastics: innovations and impacts – an exploration of plastic technology, impacts and initiatives. Plastic is a wicked problem that offers a rich context for learning – our planning pathway will help you get started.

    The most common form of air pollution is from particulates – small particles released from burning material. Scientists are researching the link between human health and the level of particulates – learn more about this issue in the article Air quality. Explore air quality issues with these two activities: Investigating air pollution and Sources and effects of air pollution.

    In our PLD webinar All about insects, delve into the fascinating world of insects and the important learning that can happen if we include them in our classrooms and educational settings. Discover more of our resources on insects and pollination.

    Citizen science

    See these other citizen science projects dealing with the issue of litter:

    • Litter Intelligence – run by Sustainable Coastlines with a focus on long-term beach litter.
    • Litterati – an international project that allows participants to photograph, upload and tag litter in their own area.
    • Backyard Battle– led by Keep New Zealand Beautiful to help provide a better understanding of the litter’s pathways across Aotearoa.
    • Mizuiku Upstream Battle – led by Keep New Zealand Beautiful to help provide a better understanding of the root causes of pollution in Aotearoa.

    Here are some planning tips for when you intend to use a citizen science project with your students. See these helpful webinars: Getting started with citizen science and Online citizen science.

    Useful links

    EARTHDAY.ORG has launched a range of toolkits to take on several of the world’s most pressing issues. Some examples are plastic pollution, climate literacy, fashion and bee conservation.

    The Citizen Science Cloud is a place where anyone can share and access open, interoperable citizen science data and related applications – see data from the Global Earth Challenge project.

    In this YouTube video, Anne Bowser from the Wilson Center speaks about the 2019 launch of the Earth Challenge citizen science campaign.

    Earth Day is celebrated on 22 April every year with the goal to demonstrate support for environmental protection. A wide range of events are coordinated globally by EARTHDAY.ORG.

    In this recorded webinar from NZ Predator Free, listen to Al Glen from Manaaki Whenua discussing using cameras and how they ‘trained’ computer models to improve accuracy using artificial intelligence (AI).

    The Royal Society Te Apārangi resource Plastics in the environment – understanding plastic waste in Aotearoa has useful infographics and reports about plastic problems in Aotearoa.

    Check out the large collection of citizen science resources curated in our Pinterest board.

      Published 14 June 2022 Referencing Hub articles
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