Students,researchers creating Tahoe smartphone app | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Students,researchers creating Tahoe smartphone app

Griffin Rogers
griffin@tahoedailytribune.com

Lake Tahoe residents and visitors may soon be helping researchers gather regional information about the lake — and all with the click of a few buttons.

The Tahoe Environmental Research Center is requesting proposals to develop a smartphone app that would enable users to record data about the lake’s nearshore environment, including perceptions of water clarity, the amount of algae in the area, beach conditions and more.

With the help from the potentially millions of people who enjoy Tahoe each year, scientists hope to use feedback from the app to quantify “the experience of Lake Tahoe beach-goers and in particular their sense of environmental quality,” according to the proposal request.

Researchers also wish to raise environmental awareness and encourage stewardship in the Tahoe Basin, and possibly beyond.

The citizen science will be used by lake researchers, as well as be a part of one or more exhibits that compare the findings to data gathered by scientific instruments.

Heather Segale, education and outreach director for TERC, said the app is being designed with simplicity in mind.

“We’ve been adding nearshore sensor stations that are underwater, gathering information about the nearshore environment,” Segale said, “and we want to link people’s perception of that environment with the numeric data being collected.”

“So let’s say an underwater sensor is recording the amount of chlorophyll in the water — the sensor may say the chlorophyll reached some particular level,” she continued. “We’re curious to see if people standing on the beach can actually notice algae on the rocks, algae in the water. And at what point do people start recognizing algae is visible to them perceptually compared to what the sensor says.”

The exhibits, currently in development, will be located at TERC’s Tahoe Science Center in Incline Village.

A basic structure for the app has already been created and includes steps to identifying the various aspects of the nearshore environment. Users are given options to describe what they see and in what quantity, or they can take a photo with their smartphone and submit their own observations.

TERC is requesting proposals from undergraduate or graduate students of UC Davis to develop the app. Individual developers could receive up to $4,000 if selected for the app’s final development, which will be paid by the Institute for Museum and Library Studies.

Segale said interested UC Davis students will be working on a development proposal for the software this school quarter, and TERC will select who will move on in the process by mid-April.

A beta version of the app is expected to be available by June for public testing. A final product will follow, with a possible August release date.