Meet Billy Barr, the Citizen Scientist Helping Track Climate Change

Apr 8, 2024

Billy Barr has been alive for 73 years. For the last 50, he’s diligently and doggedly recorded evidence of climate change. He measures the snow levels outside his home in Gothic, Colorado. Nobody pays him to do it. And he’s been promised no reward beyond the continuing pleasure of his slightly-sated curiosity. In short, he’s a citizen scientist. 

Barr is among the countless (and growing) number of people across the globe who engage in the scientific method. They hypothesize, gather data, and test theories. They do it simply because they find value in doing so. Should their work prove helpful to university researchers, government scientists, or corporate technologists along the way, so much the better.

Barr’s efforts, it turns out, have told scientists plenty. His daily trek to measure snow height has revealed that, in recent years, a concerning trend has emerged. Snow is coming later to the Rocky Mountains. It’s melting earlier, too. That’s bad news for folk that live along rivers and streams in the Southwest. They rely on a steady stream of melted snowpack for the year’s water supply. If that snowpack is dwindling, it could make droughts worse.

“Snow is a physical form of a water reservoir, and if there’s not enough of it, it’s gone,” Barr told The Associated Press.

Thanks to Barr’s efforts, those downstream can better prepare for shortages to come. It’s just one way that citizen scientists aid their communities. And the best part? Folks don’t need a PhD to pitch in.

“Anybody could do it,” Barr says. “Being socially inept made me so I could do it for 50 years, but anyone can sit there and watch something like that.”   

Reflect: Think about a time when you ran an experiment, whether for school/work or for your own curiosity. How did it turn out? 

Photo of Billy Barr courtesy @Denverchannel on X.

What does the term "citizen scientist" refer to in the story about Billy Barr? (Common Core RI.5.4; RI.6.4)
a. a professional scientist working for a government institution
b. an individual who conducts scientific research for personal interest without formal scientific training
c. a scientist who holds citizenship in multiple countries
d. a member of a special group of scientists that belong to a single country
For more formative assessments, visit to start a free trial.

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