I am keeping up the tradition of running behind at all times – here I am delivering the relation from my visit on 17th of May just now. At the outing all my ‘subjects’, apart from the oak tree, were in full leaf. The full leaf event is the TrackATree survey phenological cut off point so it looks like I will be finishing my surveys in a week or two (Christine confirms this in her blog post for the week but adds that we should keep going until the majority of wildflowers disappear).
I thought this was a good time to get my data sorted out and finally enter it all into the TrackATree database. This post focuses on some thoughts on the process (which I hope may be helpful, should the project team wish to fiddle with the online interface over the summer;).
At the end, I also describe a tip on how to estimate distance between the tree and the edge of the woodland using Google Maps (link to the video).
But before I proceed here is something for those of you who come here for the sounds and the pics (not much to report on the visits themselves beyond those;):
Here for the pics.
Here for the pics.
Data fiddling experiences below…
Submitting the data
This normally happens in two parts – first you must enter details of your site and the trees within in, and only then you can submit data from each of the census visits for each tree.
Entering site and tree information was easy – I liked the integration of Google maps within the form which helped to double check the location of the tree (although could get more explicit advice on the acceptable format of the geo-coordinates). It was also super easy to outline the visited site using the map’s drawing tools.
On the other hand, I thought the interface for individual observations could be improved:
- Prefilling the form with information from the previous date for the tree is quite useful (although a tad confusing) and saves time. But I thought it may lead to errors if entries in some of the cells are missed and not amended. Suggestion for improvement – prefilled data cells or text could be coloured differently until item is amended or saved.
- Great to have pdf field sheets with handy tables for multiple entries against each tree – it would be grand if this table were also available in a spreadsheet format and uploadable in one go. But then there may be endless technical issues with missing commas and wrong formats so perhaps the decision here is a practical one;)
- Very difficult to double check over the entered data for errors as no summary across dates by site or by tree provided in a simple table (which would correspond to the way it is laid out in the field sheet:) – editing/scruitinising a complex page for each entry is liable to errors and time-consuming. A field diary summary is already provided so presumably it would be possible for other fields to be pulled out in a similar way?
- A bit frustrated that I cannot download my own entries…(as per field diary option already available). I wanted to visualise my observations (I guess you can get the gal out of science but you cannot get science out of a gal;) and now will need to enter it manually into a spreadsheet as well as the database….This is for my own satisfaction but I would imagine that it could be handy if school groups use the project as a way to get kids to play around with data etc.
- On that note – having a set of tools inbuilt into the website for the citizen scientists to have a play around with their data (or subsets of overall data) – just simple plots against time and year on year would be quite exciting. More sophisticated analyses as per proper science publication would be even more so. How cool would this be for use in high schools and university courses!!! The other day I caught an interesting idea from the Galaxy Zoo peeps who only recently started thinking of investment in the tools for schools. They are trialling a Navigator tool which allows school groups to work together on data collection and then explore their own data (there is also a space for teachers to share their resources on the Zoo website). I am sure this is not very realistic as would require a bit too much of an investment from a small project like TrackATree…but perhaps something to consider for Nature’s Calendar? (Here is the full AAS panel session on citizen science via the ABC Science Show – available in audio and as a text transcript)
Tech tip – distance estimation
The project requires us to estimate the distance between the census tree and the edge of the woodland. As usual, I left this till the end as I thought it would be best done using tech rather than relying on my own eyeballing skills;) (weel – perhaps I just wanted to play around with some tech again;)
I had location of the tree from my GPS readings recorded in Locus Free app on my phone (these tended to be accurate to the nearest 10-15m). This is what I did to get the distance form the edge of the wood:
- Checked for the acceptable lat/long format to use with Google maps here. Locus Free recorded coordinates in this format: 56° 19.556′ N 02° 52.756′ W, which translated to 56 19.556 -02 52.756 for Google Maps.
- In Google Maps clicked on the settings – cog icon at the bottom right – and selected My Places (need to have a Google account to use this).
- Entered the coordinates in the search box and hit enter – the map shows the coordinates marked with a green arrow and the nearest point on a road with a red place marker.
- Toggled from Map to the Satellite view (Top right hand corner of the map).
- Turned on Google Maps Labs distance measurement tool (takes into account the curvature of the Earth – important for long distances) and used this to measure distance from the green arrow to the nearest woodland edge – here is a video showing you how to do this.
Could not use Maps Engine Lite as it seems to default to the road when asked to go to specific lat/long coordinates via the search box.