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How Wireless Hotspots Made the 2016 BioBlitz Count

Geared with technology, Washington, D.C. area students made their participation at the National Parks BioBlitz count!

More than 2,600 students explored national parks in and around the national capital area, May 20-21, 2016,  as part of the National Parks BioBlitz, the culmination of a ten-year partnership between the National Geographic Society and the National Park Service.

The 2016 BioBlitz was a national celebration of the NPS centennial and biodiversity in our national parks. In addition to scientists as their guides, hundreds of mobile tablets provided by Verizon Wireless and loaded with the iNaturalist app, turned this ultimate field trip into a real data-gathering event.

Howard Univesity students work on a urinalysis lab for their Biology class, at the Biology Department at Howard University, February 3, 2014. Photograph by Evelyn Hocksteig.
Photograph by Evelyn Hockstein.

While exploring the parks with an expert as their guide, schoolchildren took photographs of the plants, animals, and fungi they saw — and used class accounts on iNaturalist to record and share those observations as biodiversity data. iNaturalist, based at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California, provides a way to turn photos into useful scientific data through crowd-sourcing species identifications and data sharing.

Verizon also provided wireless hotspots called Mifis or Jetpacks to make it easier for people to upload their iNaturalist observations and for park staff to confirm identifications on the iNaturalist website. The Mifis were used at 13 different parks throughout the National Capital Region.

Howard Univesity students work on a urinalysis lab for their Biology class, at the Biology Department at Howard University, February 3, 2014. Photograph by Evelyn Hocksteig.
Photograph by Evelyn Hockstein.

“It was great to see student scientists converge on the U.S. Capital region’s national parks with Verizon wireless 4G LTE devices to photograph, identify, map and share their finds in real time,” said John Johnson, executive director, Corporate Communications at Verizon.  “As a company we are committed to improving student engagement and achievement in STEM fields, and this event is a perfect place to demonstrate true mobile technology in education.”

The National Parks BioBlitz helped iNaturalist set a new record with more than 64,000 observations added in just one week, surpassing the previous weekly total by more than 10,000 observations.

Howard Univesity students work on a urinalysis lab for their Biology class, at the Biology Department at Howard University, February 3, 2014. Photograph by Evelyn Hocksteig.
Photograph by Evelyn Hockstein.

This high-tech, open-data BioBlitz makes it easier for students to work with real data and continue to engage even after the BioBlitz ends. Teachers are encouraged to use a BioBlitz activity aligned to both the National Geography Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards to explore BioBlitz data on iNaturalist to understand how their BioBlitz observations contribute to the larger effort.

For all of 2016, iNaturalist is keeping a running total of how many observations and species are found in National Parks across the country. Anyone can add to it and keep an eye on the running total. Go here for more information.