Monitoring of Suspended Sediments in a Tropical Forested Landscape With Citizen Science

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Catchments are complex systems, which require regular monitoring of hydro-chemical parameters in space and time to provide comprehensive datasets. These are needed to characterize catchment behavior on a local level, make future projections based on models, implement mitigation measures and meet policy targets. However, many developing countries lack a good infrastructure for hydrological monitoring since its establishment is costly and the required resources are often not available. To overcome such challenges in data scarce regions like Kenya, a participatory citizen science approach can be a promising strategy for monitoring water resources. This study evaluates the potential of using a contributory citizen science approach to explore spatiotemporal turbidity and suspended sediment dynamics in the Sondu-Miriu river basin, western Kenya. A group of 19 citizen scientists was trained to monitor turbidity using turbidity tubes and water levels with water level gauges in six nested subcatchments of the Sondu-Miriu river basin. Over the course of the project, a total of 37 citizen scientists participated and contributed to the overall dataset of turbidity. The sampling effort and data contribution varied from year to year and among participants with the majority of the data (72%) originating from 8 (22%) citizen scientists. Comparison between citizen-scientist collected suspended sediment data and measurements from automated stations showed high correlation (R2 > 0.9) which demonstrates that data collected by citizen scientists can be comparable to data collected using expensive monitoring equipment. However, there was reduced precision of the measurements of suspended sediment concentrations at low and high levels attributed largely to the detection limitations of the turbidity tubes and citizen scientists not capturing major sediment export events. Suspended sediment concentrations were significantly higher downstream (109 ± 94 mg L−1), a subcatchment dominated by agriculture and rangeland with low forest vegetation cover, as compared to a subcatchment with high forest cover (50 ± 24.7 mg L−1). This finding indicates that forest cover is a key landscape feature to control suspended sediment concentrations in the region. Future citizen science projects should focus on motivation and engagement strategies and the application of robust methods with improved detection limits and resolution to advance hydrological monitoring.

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