On a Mt. Everest expedition in May of 2011, Willie and Damien Benegas left the traditional route near Camp 2. They climbed off track to collect samples of a moss growing on a rock slab, and then returned to back to their quest to reach the world's tallest peak.
Their expedition team reached the high point of the Himalayas and the moss samples they collected in route became a high point as well. According to Greg Treinish, founder of Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, the moss "shattered the known limit recorded for plant life." Scientists at the University of Washingtontrained the mountaineers to gather the samples before they left and analyzed the results upon their return.
This record-breaking moss is one of the first success stories for Adventurers and Scientists for Conversation, an organization founded in January of 2011 to connect adventurers heading to remote regions with scientists in need of data from those locations.
"I realized that there was this huge void [in conservation research] and we needed an opportunity to get the people who care to do more," Treinish said.
He explained that the the organization builds these partnerships in two ways. Adventurer athletes can approach the group and explain the expedition that they're planning. ASC finds researchers and lets them know about the opportunity to use the upcoming expedition for data collection. Or scientists can visit the website and provide descriptions of research data they need help collecting.
All of ACS's work hinges on the idea of citizen science. From tracking wolverines to exploring rare plant habitat, outdoor enthusiasts can be trained to collect important data scientists can really use. All of the citizen scientists volunteer, which benefits scientists trying to stretch research budgets. Treinish hopes that these collaborations can help adventurers play a role in understanding and protecting the natural environments that they love.
Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation also supports citizen scientists closer to home. They help organize science projects for students, military veterans and community organizations, so that volunteers can participate and build connections to research that protects the planet.
"We take people out and teach them so they can collect data," Treinish said. "We can begin to change the way everybody spends their time outside."
Photo: Citizen scientists collecting information on a glacier. Credit: Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation.