Can Your Instagram Post Help Track Climate Change?


Can Your Instagram Post Help Track Climate Change?

Social media has proven itself to be a source of easily accessible information for both researchers and individuals. It has opened the door to new opportunities to learn about the world around us. One of these opportunities involves tracking climate change through the picture sharing app Instagram.


iSeeChange was founded in 2013 by environmental reporter Julia Kumari Drapkin. According to the project’s website, it’s “an environmental reporting project that combines citizen science, participatory public media, and cutting edge satellite and sensor monitoring of environmental conditions.” It works this way: People post images to Instagram of anything unusual that could be related to climate change. Then, they include the hashtag “#iSeeChange” in the caption. Examples include early blooming flowers, different bird migrations, or unique weather patterns. Because Instagram includes date and location, scientists can keep an accurate track of where environmental changes are happening.

By using #iSeeChange, scientists can review and archive these posts. Connecting all of the individual photos may lead to a better understanding of the bigger climate change picture. As Drapkin explains, “It’s the little changes—the details we see on our regular walks, in our homes, the small talk at the post office or corner store—that can add up to big, big differences.”

The project was piloted for Western Colorado and has since expanded nationwide to include partnerships with eight radio stations and NASA scientists studying atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Because anyone with an Instagram account can participate, it makes the broad topic of climate change very personal and provides a real way for people to help contribute to its study.

Has this worked before?

Social media has proven to be beneficial to researchers in several other instances.

Scientists in Germany have taken advantage of YouTube to track water levels in a cave southeast of Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. By watching YouTube videos people posted of swimming in the cave, scientists confirmed that water levels have risen 40 centimeters a month over the past two years. They were able to determine this by comparing the water levels in the videos to distinctive graffiti left by local residents on the cave walls and tracking the difference by the video recording dates.

In Jakarta, Indonesia, Twitter helps handle flooding during monsoon season. Individuals are encouraged to post live updates which are used to help ensure public safety. Over the past two monsoon seasons, over 8 million tweets were analyzed to build a model to increase response times. This strategy encourages individuals to play an active role in saving lives during these emergency situations.

Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter help people positively contribute to the world around them. And, we may just be discovering how society can use social media to help change the world—one post at a time.