CFI-L.A. provides volunteers for citizen science project studying trees resilient to drought

     A half dozen volunteers joined up with CFI-L.A.’s Rational Volunteer Association (RVA) as it participated Sunday for several hours in a citizen science data collection project conducted by Earthwatch involving the measuring of trees in Plummer Park in West Hollywood.

tree measuring in Plummer Park

     The Earthwatch Operation Resilient Tree Data Collection Project seeks to understand how urban trees grow in different climatic conditions. That data will be used by scientists at the University of California, Riverside, to determine water usage and cooling benefits of common urban tree species in Greater L.A. The results will help build urban resiliency to drought in Southern California.

     “I’ve tallied up the data,” commented Ellie Perry, Los Angeles Program Consultant for Earthwatch and leader for the project, to the volunteers, “and thanks to your measurements, we have now exceeded our goal for Olives and Water Gums in the Central region. On top of that, this equates to a 10% jump in progress, meaning we’ve now hit 70% of our target goal for this region. Great work everyone!’

Tree measuring

     Several other volunteers joined the RVA group, too. Working in teams, volunteers used equipment provided by Earthwatch, the environmental non-profit science organization known for its volunteer expeditions worldwide. The teams, which were trained on the spot by Perry, used measuring tapes to determine the diameter and circumference of targeted tree species; GPS devices to fix the location of trees for follow-up studies; compasses to measure the width of the tree canopy in four directions; a 33-foot string to outline an area surrounding the tree for volunteers to estimate the percentage of soil permeability; and data recording sheets.

     Volunteers signing up through the RVA included team leader, Bob Ladendorf, chief operating officer of CFI-L.A., Bill Hausman, Susan Odegard, Barbary Baer and Lauren and Barry Smith.

     Citizen science projects are gaining in popularity because they allow scientists studying a large region and with increasingly limited budgets to have important data collected for their studies. For years, thousands of people have allowed their idle computers to be used in the SETI program to listen for alien radio signals. More recently, as reported in the July/August issue of National Geographic History magazine, some 250,000 citizen scientists worldwide use their computers for the Ancient Lives project, in which volunteers help decipher the Oxyrhynchus papayri from Egypt.

post-measuring chat

     Did you want to participate on Sunday, but couldn’t? Not to worry. The ongoing tree study project has more opportunities, including this coming Tuesday, Aug. 9, in Long Beach at 2 p.m. For more information about volunteering for that outing or for others in the future, see the Earthwatch volunteer page at:

     Earthwatch also conducts Certified Citizen Science Training that earns volunteers the right to collect data independently or to lead groups. The organization also has a volunteer expeditions worldwide to assist scientists in collecting data for their projects, and L.A. County sophomore and junior students may apply for free expeditions. For more information about these projects, contact Perry at or see the Earthwatch Web site.

     CFI-L.A.’s RVA is a group of skeptics and secular humanists who do positive work in both the freethought community and society at large. It is involved in a number of efforts to make a constructive influence on our world. If you wish to help, and have the time and skills to contribute, please join us. Email for more information.


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