Each Earthwatch Expedition begins with a hypothesis.
Scientists want to answer many questions. Do marine reserves really protect sharks? Will different land management strategies help predators, prey, and people live more harmoniously together? How do volcanoes impact climate change?
Some of these scientists also require lots of people power to collect the data they need. That’s where Earthwatch comes in.
Here’s a step-by-step look at how we turn a scientist’s research questions into an exciting, educational, and safe travel opportunity for people like you.
1. THE APPLICATION PROCESS
Earthwatch begins its search for new expeditions at the beginning of each year. The scientist first submits a Concept Note—we get between 75 and 100 annually. The Earthwatch Research Department then invites up to 30 scientists to send us a detailed proposal and complete a phone interview. The proposals then go through peer review, so we know we’re only supporting sound and important research. In all of our projects, we look for compelling research that addresses critical ecological and cultural challenges related to environmental sustainability.
Of course, we also consider other factors: Is the area where the scientist works safe for travelers? Will the general public be interested in this research, and can they make a strong contribution? Will they enjoy traveling to this particular corner of the world? Once we’ve considered all the angles, we select new expeditions we want to develop for the coming year.
2. RISK ASSESSMENT
From the office, our risk managers do a thorough analysis of all the hazards present at the expedition site. They take everything into consideration—from transportation hazards to diseases to wild animals to weather conditions.
Then, before we send participants like you (a.k.a. “citizen scientists”) on an expedition, we send ourselves. A safety expert from Earthwatch visits the site to ensure everything is up to our high standards, trains the staff that will be working with volunteers, and develops a plan for handling unexpected emergencies. To find out more, read "Safety in Science,” a firsthand account from one of our safety mavens on our blog, Earthwatch Unlocked.
3. SETTING DATES
We set dates that fit with the timing of the research—for example, you can only observe migrating gray whales on the Pacific Coast during the winter. Some projects can run at any time of the year, and we like to schedule these for the summer, when more people have the time to travel.
4. DETERMINING PRICE
To set a price for an expedition, we consider much more than housing and food. We also factor in the cost of research equipment, permits, staff, and offsetting the carbon from volunteer travel to the site. We call the fee participants pay to join an expedition a contribution, because it is actually considered a charitable donation. For a more detailed look on expedition pricing, see “A Penny for Your Thoughts” on Earthwatch Unlocked.
5. FIRST EXPEDITION TEAM VISIT
Finally, the moment arrives—the first expedition team begins! The volunteers have packed their gear and hit the road, and so has another Earthwatch staffer. This person’s job is possibly the most fun one at Earthwatch: he or she is on hand during the first team in case any hitches arise, but essentially just works like any other volunteer, soaking up the science and the cultural experiences and only providing guidance where necessary. One staff member reported on her first-team adventure on Earthwatch Unlocked in “Are You Cut Out to Be an Earthwatcher?” From there, teams continue to head into the field to help with the research all season long.
6. ANNUAL RENEWAL
The work of deciding what research should be an expedition never really ends. Each year, we review our portfolio of projects to make sure that they still align with our mission and provide volunteers with a meaningful and exciting experience. Scientists also have the chance to think about their Earthwatch support. They may have completed their particular project or moved on to a stage of research where they no longer need help from volunteers.
By constantly evaluating our expeditions, we make sure that our volunteers have the best experience possible and that, together, we keep answering the most critical questions about our planet’s future.