Zach Lyon Creative

Citizen Science Tahoe

Citizen Science Tahoe is a geolocated citizen science survey app for monitoring algae growth, invasive aquatic species, water clarity, and other environmental factors at Lake Tahoe.

Designed and developed in collaboration with UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, Desert Research Institute, and Keep Tahoe Blue.


The team was the Director of Educational Outreach from UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, a Climate Scientist from Desert Research Institute, the Citizen Science Outreach Manager from League to Save Lake Tahoe (Keep Tahoe Blue), two backend developers and me.


The idea was to produce a geolocated citizen science survey app for iOS and Android with a password-protected admin data export dashboard allowing clients to manage multiple surveys dynamically with multiple question-and-answer types, and export observation data and reports.

I was initially contracted to save the first version of the project from the ParseDB shutdown. I patched “CST v1” and began developing a hybrid mobile app using Ionic and Angular, with the real-time database, Firebase. I met with the team and organized the requirements from the three collaborating organizations, each with ideas for the surveys and observations they sought from participants. The primary research was for algae growth, invasive aquatic species, water clarity, beach conditions, forest fire ashfall and later became a specialized survey manager for Lake Tahoe ambassadors on the Tahoe Rim Trail.


I met with the team and presented ideas to develop a dynamic system for survey creation, designed the interface for the dashboard and mobile app, and established requirements for data export API for more efficient data sourcing. By working with a contracted backend developer, we built a dynamic survey generator on a password-protected admin dashboard, that also allowed for exporting of observations made on the dynamic surveys.


Create a geolocated citizen science crowdsourcing app with the ability for stakeholders to create surveys and export data. I volunteered a significant amount of time in hopes of developing the concept into a white-label software as a service product.


The project lasted for about five years. Every year, grants and funding only allowed for a limited budget for updates. Initially, I faced major issues with data input and output discrepancies and later discovered it was due to the clients changing the survey questions and order while observations were being created. So, we had to implement a survey lock to ensure no future changes were made. This also prompted other feature ideas like survey duplication, which later was beneficial for annual survey versioning. Further, I had to contend with several iOS changes that were released during annual versions of the app. from CST1 to CST5. Modifications had to be made to prompt the user to allow geolocation permissions, creating another step in the user journey.


The project was well received by the local science community in its first year with over 3,000 observations submitted in the winter of 2018. Stakeholders obtained email addresses from profile creation for marketing and promotion of continued observations. One of the collaborating organizations, Desert Research Institute, liked the concept and Mountain Rain or Snow was created. Ultimately, the interest sparked by other organizations nationwide led me to pursue Hive Science as another startup project.


Due to challenges in obtaining grants and funding to continue further development, the team decided to take the project in-house in 2023 and use the ArcGIS Survey123 app builder rather than continue with custom app development.

More Case Studies

Mountain Rain or Snow Case Study
Mountain Rain or Snow

Mountain Rain or Snow

Mountain Rain or Snow is a geolocated citizen science survey app for monitoring the precipitation in mountain regions in the United States.   View Case Study →

Sierra State Parks Case Study
Tahoe Parks

Tahoe Parks

The Tahoe Parks app from Sierra State Parks Foundation features a field guide, trails, parks and tours for your visit to Lake Tahoe.   View Case Study →

Visit Virginia City Case Study
Visit Virginia City

Visit Virginia City

Visit Virginia City is a visitor guide app featuring geolocated audio walking tours, Bluetooth beacon deals at local merchants and event RSVPs.   View Case Study →