UC Davis launches app to crowdsource Lake Tahoe data

A free smartphone app logs the date, time and location of every user’s input and combines it with sensor data.
A free smartphone app logs the date, time and location of every user’s input and combines it with sensor data. Sacramento Bee file

The UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center has launched a student-programmed app that can turn Lake Tahoe beachgoers into researchers.

Citizen Science Tahoe is a free smartphone app through which the public can log information about what they see on the 71-mile shore of Lake Tahoe. The app logs the date, time and location of every user’s input and combines it with data acquired from real-time sensors put up in conjunction with lakefront property owners.

“It’s pretty unique that the general public is teaming up to gather this information,” said Geoff Schladow, director of the University of California, Davis, Tahoe Environmental Research Center.

Researchers are asking the public for input on four categories: algae, local species, water quality and beach conditions. For more keen observers, the “Pipe Keepers” and “Eyes on the Lake” categories examine water inflow to the lake and the spotting of invasive species, respectively.

Once the data are gathered, the center will arrange an interactive exhibit. Displays with data will also be put up in Lake Tahoe and other select areas late this year, where they will remain for many years, Schladow said.

The project was funded with help from the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association and a $150,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The project’s specific aim is to analyze the impact that the physical and chemical interactions that form Lake Tahoe have on its nearshore in order to help preserve it and other lakeshores. The nearshore is the area that Lake Tahoe visitors most often come in contact with, but it is also one that researchers know the least about.

“The nearshore is an area that has undergone a lot of degradation in the last 10 or 20 years, but it hasn’t been monitored thoroughly,” Schladow said.

UC Davis researchers and students hope the crowdsourcing of nearshore observations will help change that.

“There’s a whole lot more (beachgoers) than there are of us. There are more people on the shore on any given day. But also, when people look at things critically, it makes them think of the degradation and of how to protect lakeshores,” Schladow said.

Shahzeb Khan, 19, from Monterey, is a UC Davis freshman and computer science major who programmed the app. He won a competition to create and maintain Citizen Science Tahoe. Schladow said Khan was chosen because his proposal was thorough and his enthusiasm for the cause showed through his writing.

As he maintains Citizen Science Tahoe in the coming months, his duties will include tweaking the app, providing app updates and making sure the database runs smoothly, according to Khan.

“This connects with everything I want to do in the future. I’ve always been into apps and creating new apps. I think that’s where the future of computer science is headed,” Khan said.

UC Davis app helps visitors monitor Lake Tahoe

To download the app for the iPhone or Android phones visit www.citizensciencetahoe.org.

The Citizen Science Tahoe app can also be downloaded directly from the Apple App Store or Google Play.