By Sean O’Connor
Scientists have been observing and recording information about plants and animals from at least time time of Pliny the Elder, the Roman naturalist from 2,000 years ago, with a penchant for fish farming and the medicinal use of spices. But what’s different about the onslaught of scientists’ observations at the 2010 Bioblitz in Biscayne National Park is that we’re putting the observations on a map, and we’re doing it in (nearly) real time.
National Geographic FieldScope is an online mapping tool for logging and visualizing observation data that scientists and students collect during the event. This includes species counts, but also photos and videos of the marine and terrestrial plants, animals, and fungi collected in the park.
National Geographic has worked with the National Park Service staff at Biscayne to pull in layers of data and information about the area, which scientists can use to then go in and analyze patterns of where species have been found, and what their relationship is to each other and the different ecosystems in the park. Eat your heart out, Pliney…
The reefs, mangroves, and sea grass beds that make up Biscayne National Park are constantly experiencing change–invasive species disrupt ecosystems, migratory birds pass through the park each spring and fall, and tides and ocean currents circulate the waters in the park, bringing algae, fish, and sometimes pollution from Miami and other nearby urban areas, with it.
Let’s map it! FieldScope is accessible by anyone with a connection to the Internet and a web browser. This means that the Bioblitz extends beyond the boundaries of Biscayne National Park–students and scientists located anywhere can get in on the action by exploring the map.
Sean O’Connor is the project coordinator of educational mapping for National Geographic Education. When he’s not creating maps or advising his colleagues on mapping issues, he enjoys researching history, canoeing and kayaking, and exploring the world around him. In his work at NG, Sean has helped to develop the National Geographic FieldScope tool and launch a new suite of dynamic, on-line mapping tools for students and teachers.