Tech Tip Tuesday: All About Accuracy Circles

Believe it or not, this week marks the 30th edition of Tech Tip Tuesday. To all those who have read along and commented, or taken pieces from it to apply to your own iNaturalist experience, thank you. Our goal in creating this series was to highlight different tricks that we have found helpful in our own iNaturalist adventures. As the weather warms and we all feel the urge to spend as much time outside as possible, I encourage you all to continue reflecting on the topics we have covered thus far. If you have questions or suggestions that you feel would make a good TTT topic, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

iNaturalist is undoubtedly a great way to keep track of your exciting nature discoveries while contributing to biodiversity monitoring. One feature that is key to both creating good data and keeping accurate records for your own reflection is mapping locations. If you have played around with your observation’s location at all, you may have noticed that it has two components: the location designated by coordinates and the accuracy circle around those coordinates given in meters. Today, I’m going to explain the importance of that accuracy circle and how you can change it.

The accuracy circle shows your location’s accuracy. Essentially, it draws a circle of a certain diameter around the area in which you most likely made your observation. It does this to account for any errors that might have occurred when assigning your coordinate location. The larger the circle, the larger the area you could have made your observation.

In general, you want the smallest accuracy circle possible while still encompassing your true location. If your location gets automatically added to your observation (often from your smartphone), then chances are the accuracy circle is optimally sized. It’s more likely to end up too large when you manually add the location. The optimal accuracy circle size varies depending on the area you made your observation in. For example, when I make an observation from a town, park, or other feature that is easy to recognize on the map, my accuracy circle can be fairly small (10-15m). However, when I make an observation in the middle of a forest that has relatively few identifiable features on the map, I create a larger accuracy circle (upwards of 200m). Ultimately, my goal is to have the smallest area while still keeping my exact location somewhere inside.

Besides improving a location’s accuracy, it’s also important to have your accuracy circle optimally sized because it can affect whether your observation gets added to places or projects. If you have ever wondered why an observation hasn’t shown up in a place even though the location qualifies, it’s likely because your accuracy circle exceeds the place’s boundaries. By making your accuracy circle smaller, you will likely find that your observation now qualifies for that place.

If you can, the easiest way to check an observation’s accuracy circle size is when you are uploading the observation. You can check this by clicking in the box that says “Location” and looking at the circle on the map. The center of the circle is the location that will get marked by coordinates and the size of the circle indicates the range of other possible locations for your observation. You can drag the sides of the circle to resize it so that it provides better accuracy. For example, if you know you made your observation in a park, don’t size your accuracy circle to include the parking lot nearby. Just keep it to the area in which you could have made your observation. You can then either click the back arrow in the top left corner of your screen (mobile phone) or click “Update observation” at the bottom of the page (computer) to save your observation and continue filling out other information.

If you want to check an observation that you have already uploaded, go to the observation’s page and click “Details” under the right corner of the map. You will see it as “Accuracy”. It’s difficult to say an exact distance at which your accuracy circle should be edited, however you will likely be able to gauge whether or not it’s the appropriate size based on the location. For example, if the observation was made in your backyard or town and the accuracy circle is over 300m, you may want to make it smaller. Just remember, the more certain you are about your exact location, the smaller the accuracy circle can be.

If you do notice an observation whose accuracy circle seems inaccurate, you can change it by clicking “Edit” in the top right corner of your observation’s page. On the editing page, you will notice three columns of information. The middle one says “Where were you?” across the top. The top box says the location name and below it there is a grey box with “Lat”, “Lon”, and “Acc(m)”. The Acc (accuracy circle) is what you need to change. In the top right corner of that box, there is an “Edit” link--click on it. You will now be able to edit the contents of the boxes.

Once again, the new buffer size depends on where you are and how certain you are of your location. In general, the only times my accuracy circle is 1km or above is if my observation is from a large, densely wooded area like a national forest that lacks features that may clue me in to my exact location. Usually, my accuracy circle ranges from 6-50m depending on the location. Once you edit your accuracy circle, you can scroll to the bottom of the page and click “save observation”. If you were trying to get the observation to qualify for a place, check if the observation is there. If not, you may be able to resize your accuracy circle a little more to get it to qualify while maintaining accuracy.

I realize that there was a lot of information here, so to summarize:

Your observation’s accuracy circle indicates the area where you could have made your observation (i.e. the location’s accuracy).
You want your accuracy circle to be as small as possible while still including the true location in it. This may look different depending on where you are (town or yard versus a national forest).
The size of your accuracy circle can affect whether your observation gets added to a place.
You can change your accuracy circle size either when uploading or by visiting the observation’s page.

TTT Task of the Week

This week, I want you to check out your accuracy circle sizes when uploading. I also recommend picking three observations from different locations and checking their accuracy circle size. If they seem too large, try decreasing the size, even just by 50-100m. Finally, if you have observations that should have automatically shown up in a place or project but didn’t, try resizing the accuracy circle and see if that helps.

That’s all for this week! Thank you for helping us monitor Vermont’ biodiversity, stay safe, and happy observing!

Posted by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2, May 26, 2020 18:51


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