Signs of change: documenting environmental change using crowd-sourced time-lapse photography

Raised of $3,500 Goal
Ended on 3/07/14
Campaign Ended
  • $490
  • 14%
  • Finished
    on 3/07/14

About This Project

Many people around the world carry advanced cameras everywhere they go and the images collected by these devices are easy to share. This project will harness our ability to collect thousands of photos to create powerful time-lapse photos. We will see exactly how our landscape responds to climate, development, and other natural events, effectively streaming environmental change through crowd-sourced photography.

Ask the Scientists

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What is the context of this research?

I've been working in Southeast Asia since 1987, primarily in Indonesia and far southwestern China. I've seen beautiful forests converted into oil palm plantations. I've watched forests be selectively logged of their most majestic trees. We have all seen changes happening in the world around us but as time passes, we forget what the world looked like, we lose track of how much things have changed, of what we have lost or gained.

This project would created a standardized approach to monitor this change, simply by allowing passersby to snap a quick photo of the landscape in a standardized way and share it with the server. The contributed photos will be incorporated into a time-lapse video.

This approach could be thought of as "crowd-streaming", where we stitch crowd-sourced photos of the exact same scene at different moments in time into a virtual stream or video.

What is the significance of this project?

This project could affect everyone's awareness of environmental change. Together, citizens can monitor the slow evolution of landscapes around the world. Scientists can use the streams to determine the timing of ecological behavior, like flowering in the spring or leaf drop in the fall. Land managers can gain a better understanding of the recovery of landscapes after natural disaster. Changes in species composition and structure could be determined on a broad spatial scale.

These sites can be placed anywhere: in high-traffic urban areas, like parks, along rivers and waterways; in low-traffic areas, like hiking trails through national parks and forests. In the end, only a few photos would be needed to provide adequate documentation for many environmental processes and changes. Only rarely would a daily series be required. Instead, weekly or even monthly shots would be sufficient and extremely useful.

What are the goals of the project?

First order goals

  • Create a low-tech and durable physical platforms that standardize the view and orientation so that the photos can be easily stitched together (see lab notes for design ideas - comments welcome!).
  • Develop server software that can handle images from many different cameras and phones and stitch them together into movie.
  • Share these movies at Each site will have its own movie and web address.
  • Share the technique and software so anyone can create a Signs of Change site anywhere.
Stretch goals if I get extra funding!
  • Develop an app that notifies the user that a Signs of Change site is nearby, provides the user with the view of the environment they should be capturing, and automatically harvests the image off their device.
  • Produce lots of Signs of Change platforms to distribute to lucky (and randomly chosen) donors so that they can do this for their favorite part of the world.


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The main expenses of this project will be buying the material to develop and refine the platform used to capture the images and to pay for both my time and a software developer to establish the best protocol. The project will include paying for a web server and data storage, which could become substantial. Because I am collaborating with colleagues at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden in Yunnan, China, I also need to pay for the time they spend on the project. I will also be traveling frequently to a field site to monitor the project and to take images, if the site is TOO low traffic.

Meet the Team

Chuck Cannon
Chuck Cannon

Team Bio

I hatched this idea during a field course jointly funded by the US National Science Foundation and the Natural Science Foundation of China. The course brought together graduate students from around the world to focus on major topics in Asian forestry and conservation. A major focus of the course became citizen science and how to engage the public. Several of the students explored this idea but we found that it is deceptively simple but obtaining good results takes a considerable amount of planning.

Lab Notes

2 Lab Notes Posted

This lab note is
for backers only

Site Design
February 3, 2014
  • 0
  • 1
  • 4

This lab note is
for backers only

January 27, 2014
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  • 4

Additional Information

Music credit: Chet Atkins playing "Me and Bobby McGee"


I am going to offer a series of rewards for this project.

all backers will receive regular updates and breaking news about the crowd-streamed videos.

for 20 USD, you'll (eventually) receive an animated .gif file, generated from a crowd-streamed video of your choice.

for 40 USD, you'll receive a .gif PLUS a T-shirt or hat from XTBG (China) or White River Lake Marina (Texas), your choice.

for 200 USD, you'll receive a .gif, a gift, PLUS we'll provide the supporting service for a "Signs of Change" site that you install anywhere you like. (you must provide the hardware for the site but we'll provide the plans)

for 350 USD, you'll receive a .gif, a gift, PLUS we'll provide the hardware and service for a "Signs of Change" site that you install anywhere you like.

for 1500 USD, you'll receive you'll receive a .gif, a gift, hardware and service for a "Signs of Change" site of your choice, PLUS a 3 day home-stay in a Dai village in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, China. (your travel expenses not included)

Additionally, with each 500 dollars we go over the base target, we will choose one lucky donor who will receive the hardware and service for a "Signs of Change" site.

Signs of Change sites during the experimental stage:

2 high-traffic sites on different university campuses (Texas Tech and yours?)

2 low-traffic public access sites at White River Lake, Texas (
This is a small reservoir created in the 1960's to provide water for surrounding towns. It is now considered to be 0% full and can no longer provide any water to anyone. It is actually in risk of totally vanishing if the drought continues this year. Documenting this process through the coming years could be powerful and informative.

1 high-traffic tourist site in the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Yunnan, China, probably in the newly established Vine Garden. ( This is a major domestic Chinese tourist destination, receiving >600K visitors each year, that just celebrated its 55th anniversary. It is also the site of a major Chinese Academy of Sciences research facility, where I was a Professor between 2007-2011 and created a new research group in Ecological Evolution.

Project Backers

  • 13Backers
  • 14%Funded
  • $490Total Donations
  • $37.69Average Donation
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