Free citizen-science app lets users assist in research, report findings, and help Keep Tahoe Blue

South Lake Tahoe, CA (May 20, 2019) – With apps like iNaturalist and Instagram hashtags like #trashtag trending, there are increasingly more ways for budding citizen-scientists to contribute data, report concerns and get involved in ongoing research. Now, thanks to a newly updated “Citizen Science Tahoe” app created by the University of California, Davis’ Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) in collaboration with the Desert Research Institute and the League to Save Lake Tahoe, locals and visitors alike can be involved in Lake Tahoe science and protection efforts.

Today, the coalition of science-based organizations unveiled an updated and more user-friendly version of the “Citizen Science Tahoe” app designed and developed by Joinify Visitor Guides.

“Locals and visitors can join Tahoe’s largest community-powered science project,” said Heather Segale, Education and Outreach Director of UC Davis’ TERC. “Be a part of our citizen scientist community and help us understand conditions around the lake by sharing what you observe. It’s free, fun, and you can help Lake Tahoe.”

The app, originally developed by UC Davis in 2016, now allows users to report on Lake Tahoe beach conditions like algae, water quality, trash, and stormwater pollution. Users of the original app will need to create a new account with email and password or choose to report anonymously.

“Science is something that everyone can be a part of,” said Zack Bradford, natural resource manager at the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “Download the app and within minutes become part of a network of citizens working together to collect data and report significant findings that help us better understand and protect Lake Tahoe.”

In the spring and summer, users can participate in the League’s Eyes on the Lake program and report sightings of aquatic invasive weeds like Eurasian milfoil or curlyleaf pondweed. This data feeds directly to the League’s team of experts who monitor and identify problem areas in the Lake and work to find innovative solutions to stop the spread of these invaders.

In the winter, users can submit photos of snow crystals to “Stories in the Snow.” The photos help Desert Research Institute scientists better identify where moisture will fall and when during winter storms.

“The remarkable thing about these citizen science programs is that people can do real science with little more than the technology in their own pockets. The more community and visitor involvement we can get, the better. The Citizen Science Tahoe app is a way to broaden involvement in local science while inspiring curiosity for the world around us” said Meghan Collins, Education Program Manager at DRI.

The new “Tahoe Citizen Science” app is available for download on the Apple App store, on Google Play and can be found at

“The Citizen Science Tahoe 3 update offers significant improvements from previous versions – we’ve made it even easier to participate in citizen science,” said Zach Lyon, creator of Joinify Visitor Guides.

Media Contact:
Joanna McWilliams
Communications Manager
League to Save Lake Tahoe
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(530) 541-5388


The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policy makers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI is one of eight institutions in the Nevada System of Higher Education.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe, also known by the slogan “Keep Tahoe Blue,” is Tahoe’s oldest and largest nonprofit environmental advocacy organization. The League is dedicated to community engagement and education, and collaborating to find solutions to Tahoe’s environmental challenges. The League’s main campaigns include combating pollution, promoting restoration, tackling invasive species and protecting Tahoe’s shoreline. 

The UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center is a global leader in research, education, and public outreach on lakes and forested ecosystems providing critical scientific information to help understand, restore, and sustain the Lake Tahoe Basin and other systems worldwide. For more information, visit and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

DRI Stories in the Snow Project collects over 400 images from local citizen scientists

DRI Stories in the Snow Project collects over 400 images from local citizen scientists

Detailed photographs help local scientists understand regional storms, collect weather data

Reno, NV (Wednesday, March 14, 2018): No two snow crystals are alike, an old saying goes – and this winter, students, and adults from across the Reno-Tahoe region are helping researchers from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) discover exactly what the unique shape of each freshly-fallen snowflake means for Nevada’s changing climate.

As part of a new citizen science project called “Stories in the Snow” (, DRI researchers are enlisting help from a quickly-growing network of students and volunteers in the Reno-Tahoe region to collect photographs of snow crystals each time it snows.

To date, the project has collected more than 400 photographs and data points from around the region, including more than 40 images from a recent storm that hit Reno-Tahoe in early March. In April, the research team will begin analysis of the data that has been collected this winter.

“To participate, all you need is a smartphone, a magnifying lens, and a flake of freshly fallen snow,” said Meghan Collins, education lead for the Stories in the Snow program and Assistant Research Scientist of Environmental Science at DRI. “We have partnered with 15 classes from schools in the local area and several educational non-profits. We are really excited to get students and community members involved in studying our snow and learning about climate science in our region.”

Project participants use a smartphone and data collection kit (available through the Stories in the Snow crowdfunding site) to capture up-close photographs of snowflakes, then submit the photos along with weather data on time, temperature and location to a DRI research team through the Citizen Science Lake Tahoe mobile app. The app, which was developed in partnership with the U.C. Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC), is available for iPhone and Andriod operating systems. Following the Tom’s Shoes philanthropic model, each snowflake picture kit purchased through the project’s crowdfunding site provides a one-to-one matching donation of Stories in the Snow kits and training for local students.

By combining the photographs with common weather information on the time and location from which each snow crystal image was captured, DRI atmospheric research teams are learning about the temperature and water content of winter storm clouds. They are using the pictures and the weather data to better understand how snow storms in our region form and how warmer winters are impacting cloud physics and snow levels.

“We want to unravel what goes on in the clouds as a storm moves over the Sierra Crest and through our region,” said Frank McDonough, research lead for the Stories in the Snow project and associate research professor of atmospheric science at DRI. “The ice crystals tell us a lot about what happened during each snowflake’s journey – from how it first formed in the cloud all the way to how early it might melt and where it could land.”

From star-shaped “dendrites” too pointy “needles” and hexagonal “plates,” the shape and condition of each flake tells a unique story, McDonough explained. And if a flake appears covered in tiny, frozen droplets called “rime”, that is especially interesting to the research team – with possible implications for the aviation industry including research into airplane wing icing.

“If you see a snowflake with rime, you know that cloud had sub-freezing liquid water drops in it,” McDonough said. “Under those conditions, if an airplane flies through, the water droplets freeze on the airplane just like they freeze on the ice crystals. In extreme cases, the airplane can’t fly. Our main goal is to just understand clouds that exist below freezing, and what goes on in them when the water is present or absent.”

DRI initially piloted the Stories in the Snow program in several area schools during the winter of 2016-17 and launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to continue the project in October 2017. Now halfway through the 2017-18 season, Stories in the Snow is working in cooperation with teachers at ten local schools and three educational non-profits from the Reno-Tahoe region to enlist participation from students. They have also distributed more than 75 kits to other interested members of the public.

Data collected by the Stories in the Snow program is being used to support numerous projects, including improvements to climate and weather prediction models, validation of radar and satellite precipitation data, and data and insight for highway snow removal crews, avalanche forecasters, and water use planning groups. The research team also plans to make the data available to the public, so that any student or science-minded citizen can conduct their own investigations.

“If an amateur scientist wants to do a study on snowflakes, to see if they look different in March than in January, for example, we are excited to have them do that,” McDonough said. “We want the community to have access to the data. That’s the whole point with citizen science – giving people the opportunity to use these crystal images for their own projects, or just their own enjoyment.”

Stories in the Snow is supported during the 2017-2018 winter season by the Truckee-Tahoe Community Foundation and Nevada Space Grant.  For more information about the Stories in the Snow program, please visit, or follow along on Facebook (@storiesinthesnow) or Instagram (@storiesinthesnow). 

Additional photos available on Flickr:


The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in investigating the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet. For more than 50 years DRI research faculty, students, and staff have applied scientific understanding to support the effective management of natural resources while meeting Nevada’s needs for economic diversification and science-based educational opportunities. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit