Saguaro National Park, Arizona–It’s difficult to comprehend how much goes into making something like the BioBlitz function smoothly in a place like the Saguaro National Park, a 94,000-acre tract of wilderness flanking Tucson, Arizona.
Some 150 scientists, 600 volunteers, and 2,000 students have trekked here this weekend to identify and count all the organisms they can find in the Sonoran Desert preserve. The species tally is expected to number many hundreds, for the park teems with life of every kind, from the tiniest bugs in the soil to the towers of cactus that give Saguaro National Park its name.
But as brimming with life as the desert is, one notable species does not readily survive here: people. It’s hot, dry, and the thorny habitat is almost impenetrable without sturdy shoes. Hats and gobs of sunscreen are needed to protect us from the sun whenever we venture from the shade of the fan-cooled tent town that has sprung up in the desert. Through an impressive mobile solar array, the sun is also our friend; it powers thousands of electronic devices, from servers and laptops to phones and digital cameras. The blazing sun is enabling me to write and upload this blog post.
We have the digital equipment and we are powered by the sun — but do we have connectivity to allow so many of us to communicate simultaneously with one another and the entire world? Verizon Wireless has ensured that we do. “We have boosted capacity equal to the size of what a small town would use,” John Johnson of Verizon Wireless told me. Johnson sits next to me in the Science Tent, ensuring that all the equipment here is able to communicate smoothly.
“Scientists, teachers and kids are out in the park . They are cataloging flora and fauna and taking pictures and, in real time, they are sending them up the wireless network. They’re sending them to a database platform created by National Geographic called FieldScope, where people from around the country and around the world can log in and see it. They are collecting a record, a 24-hour snapshot of the biodiversity of the park, and they’re able to do it through some incredible technology.”
The park is close enough to the city to get decent wireless service, but the number of people simultaneously using the service out here this weekend is so great that Verizon boosted the wireless network capacity. Now a great many large files can be moved at the same time.
The students here today are the people who will someday be part of the generation taking care of the Saguaro National Park, Johnson observed. “That they can use technology that’s so sophisticated to make it happen makes it much more fun and engaging, and they take to it like ducks to water.”
David Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.
He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.
Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship.