Using Fulcrum to Monitor Impacts of Climate Change

04 February 2016 by Steve Signell

Animal and plant communities are profoundly affected by climate change. During periods of warming or cooling, the first ecosystems to be effected are the ones that are located near the geographic edge of their range, for example the ‘islands’ of of spruce-fir forests that sit atop the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. These ecosystems can act as a ‘canary in a coal mine’, an early indicator of what is to come later, on a much larger scale. The Boreal Wetlands of the Adirondack Park are such ecosystems. This vast array of bogs, fens, and other wetlands are some of the southernmost of their kind in North America. Impacts of climate change will be observed there first, and may provide clues about what changes in plant and animal communities we can expect in the future.

Adirondack Park

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA), in partnership with Paul Smith’s College and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) secured funding from the Environmental Protection Agency to set up monitoring sites on over fifty Adirondack wetlands. Agency personnel, academics and citizen scientists will return to these sites year after year to document the bird, amphibian and plant populations and record environmental variables such as air and water temperature. With so many people involved in data collection, the task of assembling and managing the data becomes very difficult. In the past, efforts like this have involved lots of field forms, stamps, envelopes, spreadsheets and lots and lots of data entry on the back-end. We were able to come up with a much more elegant solution using Fulcrum.

Enter Fulcrum

I was contracted to create the database infrastructure for this project, consisting of a database backend, mobile-friendly data entry form, and public-facing website. Fulcrum seemed the most logical choice, as it enables both android and iOS users to enter data, and provides an API for sharing data. The structure of the data required me to set up a fairly complex Fulcrum form with 3 levels of nested repeatables. Observers use the form to record survey start/end times, wind speed, air temp, species observed, plant phenophase (vegetative/flowering/fruiting) and to take photos and video. After field testing with APA scientists and graduate students from ESF, we held two training sessions for citizen scientists on how to use Fulcrum to enter the data as the collect it in the field. Each trainee was given an login on ESF professor Colin Beier’s Fulcrum account.

Boreal wetlands

For the front-end (, I tweaked Bryan McBride’s fantastic bootleaf template to show all the wetland sites on a map, each with a popup showing past surveys and observations. The data for the points and popups pulls live from a Fulcrum Data Share endpoint, and a little AlaSQL.js magic helped parse out the repeatable data and pull it into the popups. We were concerned that some of the citizen scientists might not have mobile devices, or might not want to use them in the field, so I created a button on the popup which opens a modal with an embedded iframe of the Fulcrum edit page for that particular location. This enables data partners who have filled out paper field forms to enter the data directly into our Fulcrum database, saving the project staff a lot of time collecting data sheets and hand-entering the data themselves.


This project has demonstrated Fulcrum’s utility in serving as the data infrastructure for widely-distributed citizen science projects. Using Fulcrum has drastically reduced the amount of work for the project managers while maintaining data integrity and facilitating widespread participation. The project also illuminated the data entry and management pitfalls involved with having multiple nested repeatables on a Fulcrum form… definitely doable but requires careful planning and user training.

Special thanks to Steve Signell and the Adirondack Park Agency for sharing their climate change project with our readers. If you have a mapping project that you’d like to share with us, feel free to send us a message at

About the author

Steve Signell is an award-winning cartographer and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist. Trained in landscape and spatial ecology at the University of Michigan and Penn State, Steve has years of experience managing spatial data and creating maps. He worked as a GIS specialist at the SUNY-ESF Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb, NY and is currently an affiliate of the Spatial Informatics Group (SIG-GIS) and an Adjunct Faculty at Renssaelear Polytechnic Institute.

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