Quaking aspens can grow in a wide range of environmental conditions. They can tolerate a wide variety of variations in climate and environmental conditions including slope, moisture, surrounding vegetation, and soil (https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/beauty/aspen/ecology.shtml). I found this information with a simple web search. But, before there was access to infinite articles, websites, and papers all a click away, scientists had to figure out growth trends using data. So, before I decided to do a web search about the environmental conditions of aspen habitats (my memorized aspen facts ended here), I decided I would try to use GLOBE data to see if I could find any trends that would give a hint as to what types of conditions aspens needed to grow.
I used the GLOBE Visualization and Data Access Tools to look at precipitation, soil type, MUC type, greening, air temperature, anything at all that would show some sort of trend. When I was not satisfied, I moved on to other databases across the world wide web. After viewing countless data tables and dozens of maps, days later, I realized this was a bit of an exercise in futility. I could not find enough data or any clear enough trends. I turned to the internet to confirm what I already thought: aspens are very tolerant and grow in a wide variety of conditions. Perhaps my experiment in recreating the days before readily available information would have been better suited for a much more finicky plant.
However, it was not a total loss. In my attempt to find and visualize data, I familiarized myself with some very cool resources.
1. The GLOBE database- using the Visualization and Data Access tools I could get data collected by GLOBE members that dated back to 1995. Having contributed to this database myself, it was exciting to take advantage of this resource. And seeing the gaps in data made me more committed to strengthening the database by entering more data (hopefully you will too!).
2. ArcGIS website- If you are unable to use the ArcGIS program, this is a good second choice. After creating an account, you can make maps right on the website or choose from a wide database of published maps. For example, I overlaid a map of the Quaking aspen range on a map of North American precipitation. Of course there are limitations on what a public account can get you, but what you can still do is quite impressive.
3. NASA- there are many different databases you can access through NASA. It is a great resource for scientists and citizen scientists alike. With much of the data available to the public, it can enhance many types of projects. My favorite data access tool was the My NASA Data Live Access Server. There are three levels- basic, intermediate, and advance designed for different age groups and there are many different data sets to choose from. The still I chose for this blog is of the Monthly Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (MISR) over 4 seasons. The My NASA Data website included a description of what the MISR measures (included below).
There are many great resources to help you with your projects. Please feel free to comment on this blog to share any additional resources that you have found particularly helpful. I hope this helps you start thinking about your research projects for this coming school year. It’s never too early to start planning for the 2018 IVSS!