Ever wanted to be a marine biologist? Now, from the comfort of your own home, you can!
Seafloor Explorer is a citizen science project that asks participants to identify substrates and creatures in pictures of the ocean’s floor. The pictures—millions of them in the database—are all taken along the northeastern coast of the U. S. by HabCam, an underwater vehicle created by a collaborative team that includes the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and local fishers and engineers. It’s quite simple to do: a tutorial teaches you how to classify the substrate as sand, shell, gravel, cobble, or boulder. Then you mark any fish, crustaceans, seastars, and scallops in the image and note whether there are any other creatures present. There are many unexpected delights to be found, like this – a pair of eels over a gravel bed (with some scallops and a crab; click to enlarge):
Or this image, showing a squid in the lower right and anemones in the upper right:
The data from Seafloor Explorer will allow scientists to study habitat and species distribution and abundance. Even more exciting, though, is the chance that we’ll see something we’ve never seen before. Already (the site was launched Sept. 13th), members may have identified a new species! Tentatively called the “convict worm“, it appears to live in sandy tubes and has a white body with narrow black bands.
If you’re more keen on actual stars than seastars, there’s also the Galaxy Zoo project, which asks for help classifying images of distant galaxies.