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App to help Alaskans fight climate change goes global

By Emily Carlson 8:11 AM February 11, 2016

A grassroots effort to fight climate change in Alaska is so successful, it’s now being used on smartphones around the world. The Environmental Protection Agency recognized the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Wednesday afternoon for their work on the Local Environmental Observer Network (LEO), an app you can now download to your smartphone.

The EPA presented the NTHC with a plaque in recognition for their innovation. That evening, ANTHC along with the EPA and the American Indian and Environmental Office counted down the seconds until the app became live around the world.

LEO launched in 2012 to help centralize and keep track of changes in Alaska’s arctic. The app and website bring up a map of Alaska, filled with hundreds of tiny circles. Each circle is an observation from a local with the knowledge to say, ‘This is unusual and should be shared, because it’s significant.’

There are hundreds of observers around the state. After they post an event, ANTHC helps connect them with people who can help — connecting the dots between climate change and Alaskans’ health.

“When things change and there’s challenges, there’s health implications that can be related to injury, it can be related to nutrition, it can be related to mental health,” says Michael Brubaker with ANTHC.

Take the recent die off of thousands of murres, northern sea birds, which have washed up on shores across the state. Observers took pictures pinpointing exactly where they found the dead birds. LEO then connected them to agencies like NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as people who can help.

“By having a better picture of what’s happening around Alaska, perhaps we’ll do a better job of how we can prevent negative outcomes and encourage the positive ones,” says Brubaker.

Now that the app is global, anyone can download it for free and post an observation — anytime, from anywhere.

The EPA and the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation are helping Canada and North America build a network of experienced observers and technical experts to help with those local posts right now. They hope to expand into the Arctic and parts of Europe by 2016.

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