Graduate Studies


First Advisor

Shannon Bartelt-Hunt

Date of this Version

Fall 11-30-2017


Noble, B. C. (2017). “Assessing Accuracy in Water Quality Data Gathered by Citizen Scientists.” M.S. thesis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Civil Engineering, Under the Supervision of Professor Shannon Bartelt-Hunt. Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2017

Copyright 2017 Brandon Carroll Noble


In a world with an ever growing need for data; the role of the citizen scientist has never played as integral a role as it does now. The ability to utilize citizens to gather meaningful scientific data allows for data sets to be gathered over geographic areas and temporal scales that would previously have been infeasible to evaluate. The focus of this study is to examine the accuracy of water quality data generated by citizen scientists. The data examined was generated by citizen scientists with varying experience levels using both laboratory generated and field samples for a variety of water quality parameters including nitrate, nitrite, phosphate, atrazine and turbidity. Our objective was to determine the influence of prior experience and concentration level on the accuracy of water quality information collected by citizen scientists. To accomplish this objective, we conducted focus groups with over 150 citizen scientists. Following initial testing in 2016, modifications were made to the instructions issued to the citizen scientists in an attempt to improve the quality of data gathered. A statistical analysis of the data found no significant correlation between either concentration or experience level on the level of accuracy, indicating that citizen scientists can collect accurate water quality data regardless of experience level or contaminant concentration level in the water. This study did observe that there was a distinct effect on the accuracy related to the quality of the instructions and testing materials issued to focus group testers.

Advisor: Shannon Bartelt-Hunt