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Have you ever visited a beach and wondered where the waves carry all that sand? On a college camping trip, curiously about waves and sand sparked Rob Thieler´s desire to study shorelines around the . Thirthy years later and now a U.S. Geological Survey research geologist, Thieler is combining science and smartphone to help study s threatened bird, the Atlantic Coast piping plover. 

The piping is an iconic shorebird that breeds along the Atlantic Coast, the Great and Great Plains. Rising sea levels and storm surges associated with climate change, as well as increased development in their beach , threaten the species. To help track changes in piping plover habitat, Thieler developed a free app called .

In 2012, Thieler - who never thought that as a scientist he would build a smartphone app - decided to make an app with his work colleagues to collect habitat data along a long stretch of the Atlantic coast. This is a marked change from the typical way scientists collect data, which involves gathering using specialized equipment or writing in notebooks and then into spreadsheets. "As a scientist, I enjoy studying the interactions between people, animals like plovers, and their environment" says Thieler. "As a federal civil servant, I´m working to apply science to help solve problems, wheter it´s natural or cultural resources or human safety".

Since releasing iPlover, scientists have gathered data across of breeding range. That equals about a third of the distance across the U.S. which is a large area to cover for only two thousand breeding pairs of piping plovers on the east coast. Instead of having to travel and spend days at each site, a network of collaborators in the field use the app to collect and send , allowing scientists to gather data more efficiently. It also allows them to collect data at the same time during each breeding season, providing a better picture of changes that happen over longer periods of time. And fast, centralized access means scientists can look at data quickly to get a real-time idea of where and how piping plovers are using habitat.

While iPlover is used by , other apps like the U.S. Geological Survey´s web based "Coast -Did the Coast Change?" use crowdsourcing, inviting citizen scientists to identify coastal changes by comparing birdseye-view taken before and after storms. All the information scientists and citizen scientists alike collect helps federal and state agencies create policy plans for addresing climate change impacts worldwide. 

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