Hide and Seep: Citizen Science and the Fresh Water Cycle

12/14/2017 02:32 pm ET

Springs are ​the point of ​origin for all ​that follows: study, ​protection, and ​sustainability ​of the ​world ​ocean and all ​fresh water resources.

Fresh Water Habitats

Earth is 70% ​covered by the ​ocean. That ​ocean, however, ​is not limited ​to the sea ​itself: it ​begins at the ​mountaintop and ​descends to the ​abyssal plain; ​it is a network ​of falling ​watersheds to ​the sea that ​encompass a ​system of ​cycles of ​conveyance in ​the ocean/​freshwater ​continuum, ​drawing ​waterlines ​across all ​facets of the ​surface of the ​earth. ​

These are all ​circles of ​connection. Our ​planet is Aqua, ​not Terra, and ​we are all ​water, now and ​forevermore. As ​I have argued ​this often ​before: the ​water system ​lies at the ​heart of our ​strategy for ​human survival ​in the 21st ​century. If we ​fail to sustain ​it, we fail to ​sustain ​ourselves. It ​is so urgent ​and obvious. ​Three days ​without oil or ​gas or coffee ​or chocolate, ​and we carry on,​ deprived and ​grouchy. But ​three days ​without water, ​as individuals, ​families, ​communities, or ​nation-states, ​we die. ​

But where in ​this collective ​of circles can ​we point to a ​place where the ​ocean begins? ​

Consider ​springs, those ​hidden seeps ​and sources of ​water from the ​inside of the ​earth that rise ​from the core ​to the ground, ​and even to the ​ocean floor, to ​feed our ​puddles, ponds, ​lakes, streams ​and rivers, our ​swamps and ​coastal marshes,​ our bays and ​seas. From ​these tiny springs comes a ​flow that ​distributes ​water into our ​bodies, our ​foods, our ​manufacturing ​systems, and ​all the other ​social and ​financial ​dynamics of our ​lives. What ​starts so small ​ends up so vast.​ By the shore ​we see the ​fulsome expanse ​of open water, ​but inland we ​may never know ​even where the ​spring sources ​lie, where they ​come and go, ​where they ​should be ​mapped, studied ​and protected, ​where they fit ​into this ​enormous water ​cycle that ​sustains us. ​

Springs ​Stewardship ​Institute

I was ​delighted ​recently to be ​introduced to ​the Springs Stewardship Institute , a program ​based at the ​Museum of ​Northern ​Arizona in ​Flagstaff, ​developed and ​directed by Dr. ​Larry Stevens ​as a local ​initiative to ​advance ​research and ​springs ​ecosystems on ​the Colorado ​Plateau in the ​United States ​and around the ​world. The ​goals are ​similar to ​other such ​academic ​projects: ​identification, ​location ​mapping, ​research, ​standards for ​stewardship, ​training, ​publication, ​educational ​outreach, ​results, ​workshops, ​webinars, and ​online presence ​and connection. ​But, in this ​case, it is the ​focus of this ​effort that is ​to be ​communicated, ​novel and ​meaningful as a ​piece of the ​water study ​circle ​un-examined and ​vulnerable. For ​purposes of our ​understanding ​today, ​let’s ​declare that ​springs are ​that point of ​origin for all ​that follows in ​terms of study, ​protection, and ​sustainability ​of the ​world’s ​ocean and water ​resources. ​

Can you ​participate? ​Well, yes you ​can. The ​Springs ​Stewardship ​Institute, in ​collaboration ​with the US ​National Parks ​Service, Bureau ​of Land ​Management, and ​ESRI , a developer ​of mapping and ​analytics ​software, has ​created an app, ​ Hide and Seep, that ​provides a tool ​to map spring ​locations, add ​new ones, ​provide on-the-​ground ​information, ​keep current ​sites up-to-​date, and add a ​new location ​anywhere in the ​world — ​all through ​your smart ​phone in the ​field. Hide and Seep is an amazing ​tool for ​citizen science,​ educational ​field trip ​engagement, ​portable access ​to comparative ​data and ​information, ​and crowd-​sourced ​research in ​places where no ​single ​expedition or ​researcher can ​practically go. ​

​Conservation ​International

The visual ​inventory on ​the site maps ​is concentrated ​in the Desert ​Southwest ​— there ​are more than ​90,000 springs ​in the current ​database! New ​ones are being ​added every day,​ providing ​coordinates, ​photographs, ​iconography, ​and various ​information ​protocols that ​collectively ​provide an ​enormous ​knowledge base ​for study, ​management, and ​protection ​created in an ​astonishingly ​short period of ​time by a ​spontaneous, ​diverse and ​multiplying ​international ​team of ​researchers: ​you and me. ​

All of us know ​springs in our ​surrounding ​environments. ​Let’s add ​those to this ​responsible ​accumulation. ​Think about the ​full aggregation,​ the full ​inventory of ​all these ​places of ​origin for the ​water that ​makes our ocean ​and all that it ​provides. It is ​the definition ​of the ocean ​itself, and we ​are the ​researchers. ​

PETER NEILL ​is founder and ​director of the ​World Ocean Observatory  and is author of “The Once and ​Future Ocean: ​Notes Toward a ​New Hydraulic ​Society .” He is ​also the host ​of World Ocean ​Radio, a weekly ​podcast ​addressing ​ocean issues, ​upon which this ​blog is ​inspired. ​

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