• The northern lights shine above Bear Lake, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Use social media to report your aurora borealis sightings with Aurorasaurus. (Photo: Senior Airman Joshua Strang)

Together, Canada’s major cities get about 30 metres of snow every year. But instead of being buried alive by winter, why not help research it?

Citizen science is when everyday people or amateur scientists participate in scientific research projects. Often these projects involve the creation of biological inventories, long-term monitoring efforts for animal and plant species, and recording natural phenomena.

Scientists compile the information collected by the many and use it to paint a larger picture of reality. Examples could be documenting weather patterns or recording the migratory behaviour of a species.

As winter fast approaches, here are a few citizen science initiatives to help stave off hibernation.

1. #snowtweets

Ice and snow researchers at the University of Waterloo are asking people to tweet snow depths in their area.

By tweeting #snowtweets followed by the measurement of snow (in centimetres or inches) followed by a postal code, citizens not only see their data tracked and mapped online, but also provide invaluable insight into weather and climate conditions.

Your tweet should look like this: #snowtweets (depth) at (location).

The snowtweets website urges tweeters to look for an undisturbed portion of snow that is representative of the snow that falls in a given area — this could be in a playground, in a back yard or on the morning commute. If you want to tweet out depths more than once a day, make sure the measurement is taken from the same spot.

2. RinkWatch

RinkWatch, created by geographers at Wilfrid Laurier University wants people to record the number of days their outdoor skating rink is skate-able. The information collected at the end of the skating season is used to track changes in the North American climate.

To register a rink near you visit rinkwatch.org.

3. Project FeederWatch

With Project FeederWatch, citizens can help scientists track winter bird populations in Canada. The project encourages North American households to put out winter bird feeders and record each feathered friend stopping for a fast meal. This winter-long survey helps scientists at Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada track broad scale movements of winter bird populations.

To join Project FeederWatch, go to feederwatch.org.

4. IceWatch

Nature Canada and the University of Ottawa are calling for Canadians to watch their ice this winter. The freeze and thaw dates of bodies of water — especially in northern climates — can be used as a measure of how aquatic ecosystems are responding to climate change.

Seasonal differences in the ice cover of rivers and lakes can alter bird migration patterns, breeding seasons, and animal food supplies.

Join the IceWatch project here.

5. Aurorasaurus

Backed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, this brand new project aims to create a map featuring confirmed aurora sightings. And during Canada’s winter, you can’t ask for a better season to see the aurora borealis.

With the help of citizen scientists and the use of social media, this project wants as many people as possible to know when the aurora is visible in their neighbourhood — all in real time.

This year and the beginning of 2014 mark the first time a solar maximum has occurred since the arrival of social media. And with the help of instant information, the project will help scientists better predict where and when the northern lights occur.

For more information check out www.aurorasaurus.org