University of Miami (Florida, US) researchers with support from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US National Science Foundation (NSF), and developers at Zooniverse.org (last mentioned here in a Jan. 17, 2012 posting) have created the Plankton Portal as a means for volunteers/citizen scientists to assist them in their research (from the Sept. 17, 2013 news release on EurekAlert),
Today [Sept. 17, 2013], an online citizen-science project launches called “Plankton Portal” was created by researchers at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS) in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) and developers at Zooniverse.org Plankton Portal allows you to explore the open ocean from the comfort of your own home. You can dive hundreds of feet deep, and observe the unperturbed ocean and the myriad animals that inhabit the earth’s last frontier.
Millions of plankton images are taken by the In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS), a unique underwater robot engineered at the University of Miami in collaboration with Charles Cousin at Bellamare LLC and funded by NOAA and NSF. ISIIS operates as an ocean scanner that casts the shadow of tiny and transparent oceanic creatures onto a very high resolution digital sensor at very high frequency. So far, ISIIS has been used in several oceans around the world to detect the presence of larval fish, small crustaceans and jellyfish in ways never before possible. This new technology can help answer important questions ranging from how do plankton disperse, interact and survive in the marine environment, to predicting the physical and biological factors could influence the plankton community.
The dataset used for Plankton Portal comes from a project from the Southern California Bight, where Cowen’s [Dr. Robert K. Cowen, UM [University of Miami] RSMAS Emeritus Professor in Marine Biology and Fisheries (MBF) and now the Director of Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center] team imaged plankton across a front, which is a meeting of two water masses, over three days in Fall 2010.
According to Jessica Luo, graduate student involved in this project, “in three days, we collected data that would take us more than three years to analyze.” Cowen agrees: “with the volume of data that ISIIS generates, it is impossible for us to individually classify every image by hand, which is why we are exploring different options for image analysis, from automatic image recognition software to crowd-sourcing to citizen scientists.”
“A computer will probably be able to tell the difference between major classes of organisms, such as a shrimp versus a jellyfish,” explains Luo, “but to distinguish different species within an order or family, that is still best done by the human eye.” Volunteer citizen scientists can assist by going to http://www.planktonportal.org. A field guide is provided, and the simple tutorial is easy to understand. Cowen and the science team will monitor the discussion boards; answer any questions about the classifications, the organisms, and the research they are conducting.
I went to the Plankton Portal and started one of the tutorials (click on the Classify tab) and almost immediately made an error. They do have a means of recovery but you have to keep following their process. Personally, I would have preferred to abort and start over again. That said, this looks like an interesting project and I wish the best for the organizers.