Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Crowdsourcing Dust Storms in the United States Utilizing Flickr

In the past on this site we have written about how one can use social media to study the world around us. Often the focus has been on Twitter but that is not the only social media platform available.  Another is Flickr, and while in past posts have show how we can use this platform to explore bird sightings, wildfires and human migration we are now turning our attention to other phenomena. One of which is dust storms. Working with Festus Adegbola and Stuart  Evans we have just presented a poster at the 2023 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting entitled "Crowdsourcing Dust Storms in the United States Utilizing Flickr"

In this research we compare Flickr images with National Weather Service  advisories and the VIIRS Deep Blue aerosol product data from the Suomi-NPP satellite. Our preliminary findings show that Flickr images of dust storms have a substantial co-occurrence with regions of NWS blowing dust advisories. If this sounds of interest, below you can read our abstract, see our workflow and the poster itself. 


Dust storms are natural phenomena characterized by strong winds carrying large amounts of fine particles which have significant environmental and human impacts. Previous studies have limitations due to available data, especially regarding short-lived, intense dust storms that are not captured by observing stations and satellite instruments. In recent years, the advent of social media platforms has provided a unique opportunity to access a vast amount of user-generated data. This research explores the utilization of Flickr data to study dust storm occurrences within the United States and their correlation with National Weather Service (NWS) advisories. The work ascertains the reliability of using crowdsourced data as a supplementary tool for dust storm monitoring. Our analysis of Flickr metadata indicates that the Southwest is most susceptible to dust storm events, with Arizona leading in the highest number of occurrences. On the other hand, the Great Plains show a scarcity of Flickr data related to dust storms, which can be attributed to the sparsely populated nature of the region. Furthermore, seasonal analysis reveals that dust storm events are prevalent during the Summer months, specifically from June to August, followed by Spring. These results are consistent with previous studies of dust occurrence in the US, and Flickr-identified images of dust storms show substantial co-occurrence with regions of NWS blowing dust advisories. This research highlights the potential of unconventional user-generated data sources to crowdsource environmental monitoring and research.

Data collection and workflow.
Distribution of Flickr identified dust storm occurrences and NWS dust storm advisories.

Full Reference: 

Adegbola, F., Crooks, A.T. and Evans, S. (2023), Crowdsourcing Dust Storms in the United States Utilizing Flickr, American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, 11th – 15th December, San Francisco, CA. (abstract, poster)

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