Cary-led Lake Observer recognized at White House Water Summit

An undergraduate taking a Secchi disk reading on Shelburne Pond in Vermont. Credit: Jason Stockwell

At today’s White House Water Summit, the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON) and the North American Lake Management Society(NALMS) were acknowledged for empowering citizen scientists with tools and resources essential to effective water quality monitoring. Citizen scientists play a vital role in raising awareness about the health of our nation’s freshwater resources. Their efforts can help document water clarity and track harmful algal blooms and other indicators of poor water quality instrumental to resource management.

Lake Observer is a mobile application developed under the leadership of Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies ecologist and GLEON co-chair Dr. Kathleen Weathers, along with Dr. Kenneth Chiu (Binghamton University), Dr. Holly Ewing (Bates College), and Lisa Borre (Cary Institute). Launched in July 2015, it has streamlined the way that research and citizen scientists record and share water quality data while working in the field. GLEON has made Lake Observer available for Android (Google) and iOS (Apple) devices, and is partnering with the U.S. Geological Survey and Esri to innovate new mapping and data-visualization features.


Lake Observer is mobile application for citizen scientists to record lake and water quality observations.

Since 1994, the Secchi Dip In has tapped into the power of volunteers to collect water transparency data on America’s lakes, streams, and estuaries. Each July, some 6,000 people participate in the event, which is organized by NALMS. Using a simple 8-inch metal disk on a cord – dubbed a Secchi Disk – volunteers measure water transparency, an important water quality indicator. This year, participants will be able to record their findings with Lake Observer and, for the first time, results will be available to the public through the Water Quality Portal.

Weathers notes, “When the GLEON team developed Lake Observer, our goal was to create a crowdsourcing platform that would aid in the collection and sharing of lake- and water-related information. We are honored to be partnering with NALMS, and pleased that the APP will help make their water quality findings available to all citizens concerned with the management and protection of lakes.”

Those interested in using Lake Observer to participate in water-quality monitoring and lake management will benefit from a series of video tutorials being developed by NALMS in collaboration with graduate students across the nation. Tutorials will be posted on the NALMS website this summer.

NALMS President Julie Chambers comments, “ Adopting GLEON’s Lake Observer will modernize uploading and analysis of Secchi Dip In data, while video tutorials will help teach a new generation of citizen scientists and water enthusiasts about the importance of preventing the degradation of our finite freshwater resources.”

White House Report: Commitments to Action on Building a Sustainable Water Future.

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 The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies is an independent, nonprofit environmental research organization located on 2,000 acres in New York’s Hudson Valley. A world-premier center for ecosystem science, areas of expertise include disease ecology, forest and freshwater health, climate change, urban ecology, and invasive species. Since 1983, our scientists have produced the unbiased research needed to inform effective management and policy decisions. Our science program is complemented by education and outreach initiatives. 

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