CAN THE CITIZEN HELP THE SCIENTIST TO HELP THE CITIZEN? HOW INFORMATION OBTAINED FROM SOCIAL MEDIA AND SMARTPHONES CAN HELP SCIENTISTS UNDERSTAND MORE ABOUT NATURAL HAZARDS
In 2014, BGS developed GeoSocial, a tool for mapping geology related ‘tweets’. GeoSocial is being trialled to map aurora sightings. The aurora is one symptom of geomagnetic activity (storms in the Earth’s magnetic field). Such activity has the potential to impact on man-made technologies on Earth and in space, for example, increasing drag on satellites, causing failure of electrical power grids, speeding up corrosion in pipelines, jeopardizing radio and telephone communications and affecting the accuracy of geophysical exploration. When a geomagnetic storm forecast is issued, a common question posed to scientists is “How far south will the aurora borealis be seen?” Current projections do not always match sighting reports received after an aurora display, but by using social media, such as Twitter, a new source of data can be mined for scientific analysis.
Smartphone apps offer an alternative way of capturing geohazard information where the user is more knowingly and actively engaged. BGS, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program (GVP), has developed myVolcano – a mobile, crowdsourcing application for collecting data about volcanic hazards. myVolcano enables users anywhere in the world to submit their own geolocated observations of volcanic hazards (e.g. photographs, videos, descriptions and physical samples). It was primarily developed as a tool for mapping volcanic ash distribution following volcanic eruptions in Iceland in 2010 and 2011 that caused widespread disruption to air travel across Europe. By capturing this information it is hoped that scientists will be able to produce better, more detailed and timely reports about the nature of volcanic ash and its distribution, helping to validate ash dispersion models, during a future event.