Photo by MDF / Wikimedia Commons

With summer just around the corner in the northern hemisphere (and that nasty winter not quite a distant-enough memory), a lot of us are looking for any excuse we can to go outside. Here are five citizen science apps that will give you all the reasons you need to get some fresh air.

Noise Tube

NoiseTube is a research project of the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris in collaboration with Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

The goal of the project is to turn your smartphone into a mobile noise level meter, so that you can help create a collective noise map of your city or neighborhood. You can also track how much exposure you have to noise in your daily environment.

Researchers can use the data to determine noise levels around the world, as well as document how people perceive and react to noise. Urban planners can improve decision making by understanding noise pollution in their own city and comparing it with global stats.

To participate, you just need to download a free app on your phone (available for both Android and iOS) and send data about the level of noise in your city back to a central server. The data are anonymized, and the app has privacy settings, so you have control over what gets sent back and when.

Currently, the project is receiving data from 431 cities, and these data are being mapped with the use of Google Earth. You can see the map here.

Project Noah

Think of this app as Facebook for nature lovers. The “Noah” in this project stands for “networked organisms and habitats,” and the website has become a major platform for people to spot and share their findings about wildlife all around the world.

To participate, just register on the site and download the Noah app for your iPhone or Android phone. With the app, you can snap pictures of local wildlife and upload them to the site for documentation and identification by a Noah “ranger.”

You can earn patches for your contributions, which the app and the website track for you. Spottings patches are earned according to the number of Spottings you’ve contributed. You can earn Special Achievements too; for example, you can earn a Globe Spotter patch for uploading Spottings from at least three countries. Specialist patches go to people who submit a significant number of Spottings in a specific wildlife category.

You can also join specific missions and projects and earn Mission patches. For example, if you’re into carnivorous birds, you could join the Raptors of North America mission. If flowers are your thing, you can join the more than 1,800 participants in the Flowers of Europe mission.


Tiny, ferocious, and fast: these are the three words that best describe hummingbirds. You probably already knew that hummingbirds beat their wings quickly (anywhere from 12 to 90 strokes per second, depending on the species), but did you know that they also have to eat several times their body weight in nectar every day to keep that up? This characteristic makes hummingbirds especially sensitive to climate change and its subsequent effects on flower bloom rates.

The Audubon Society wants to know how climate change may be affecting hummingbirds. The app that the Society has designed for this purpose is called Hummingbirds@Home. Once you have installed and registered your app, find a patch where hummingbirds are likely to visit and regularly observe it. Then, you can report your data via your iPhone or Android phone. Would you like to make a hummingbird-friendly yard to help conserve the birds while you’re at it? Here’s a link to how you can make that happen.

Bee-friend Your Garden

You’ve probably heard a lot about the decline of bee populations around the world. However, bees are not the only pollinating insects that are having a hard time. Moth and butterfly populations are also declining, and researchers would like to know why.

Bee-friend Your Garden (available for both iOS and Android) will have you record the insects that visit your garden to build an understanding of which plants are most attractive to these insects. The app will allow you to record details of the pollinating insects on your plants and then plot the results to see which of your plants is the most popular. Finally, the information will be uploaded to the central database of the project. You can also use the data to alter your garden over time to attract and preserve more pollinators.

Light Pollution

Did you know that such a thing as light pollution exists? As any urbanite can tell you, the lights are almost always on in the city, and this means that our view of the stars is greatly diminished. For many people, all but the brightest stars are washed out by street lights, car headlamps, and drive-through signs.

In an effort to both raise awareness about light pollution and document how bad it is, the Globe at Night app helps measure light pollution by determining which stars are visible or invisible to the naked eye at the user’s location. You simply use the website to find a constellation to observe, and your latitude and longitude, and then head out after sunset. You’ll be looking to match what you can see to one of seven magnitude charts. In general, the fewer stars you can see, the higher your local light pollution.

Why is light pollution something to be concerned about? For one thing, over-illumination is a major source of wasted energy (and by extension, money). For another, light pollution can have detrimental effects on sleep patterns in humans, and it also affects wildlife and habitats.

Bonus app: You can also check out Dark Sky Meter as an alternative to Globe at Night.

There you have it—at least five good reasons to get outside this summer, day or night. Enjoy!

PS – Want to learn more about citizen science and why it’s important? This week only, the book:_ Be the Change: Saving the World with Citizen Science_ is available for free. All I ask in return is that if you enjoy the book, please leave a review at Amazon. Click here to grab your copy now.