How to Fund Smartphone-Based GNSS-R Observations for Lake Ice Remote Sensing; Cryptocurrencies may Help!

I got surprised to see this post, which was about smartphones potential for lake ice thickness measurement, has been circulated a lot and gained many views from different countries around the world. However, talking about this ideas through one-to-one discussions with my colleagues and friends, a question cropped up, which made me to write this post: “How would we encourage non-specialist individuals to dedicate their phones, even for a short period of time they’re spending over lake ice, for our GNSS-Reflectometry goal regarding lake ice thickness measurement?”

I have heard a lot from people inside academia saying that environmental issues are somehow apart from financial affairs. In their point of view, when we get through environmental issues/crises, it doesn’t make sense if one talks about costs and economic feasibility, but instead, people should sincerely dedicate what they have, or even don’t, to tackle the issues. Dead Wrong! A commercialized business plan should be, I believe, the first step for turning any research\academic solutions into a practical subject.

I came up with this challenge too, when I was thinking about the idea I proposed in the previous post. In our scenario, individuals go over lake ice covers to spend their leisure time or even to do their routine jobs by, for instance, ice fishing. Now, we’d like to ask them to put their smartphones on the ice surface in a certain short distance off themselves and leave their smartphones there for couple of hours to measure the ice thickness by running our proposed app. How would we make it beneficial for them?

I know that education is a very important and effective way to raise public awareness about harms caused by the downward trends of lake ice duration, which are obviously shown by multiple environmental studies. But I believe that public awareness could not be enough to encourage individuals to devote their smartphones for this purpose; a stronger inspiration would be required.

This figure was used in my master’s thesis, without any technical analyses; originally derived from CLIMo, a lake ice model developed by Dr. Claude Duguay

Cryptocurrencies have already become a very hot topic in financial affairs, and a fast-growing number of businesses and concepts are being defined or re-developed using blockchain technologies. Aside from businesses, scientific activities have also shown potentials to be benefited and funded by endowments placed on the blockchain. Moreover, cryptocurrencies have suggested an opportunity to better protect the integrity and provenance of scientific data. In addition, ENV Finance has introduced itself as a cryptocurrency project aiming to bring environment and finance together; you can read about their project here. Seemingly, we’re not the pioneers of the “cryptoscience” (such an odd word), but we have some examples to refer.

As a result, people who are helping the environment by their smartphones equipped with a GNSS-R app may be awarded by tokens assigned by sponsors. Furthermore, a very recent cryptocurrency has been developed by a group of Stanford’s scientists enabling smartphones to mine blocks. This cryptocurrency, which is called Pi Network, may give us hints on how to encourage smartphone users to measure ice thickness and mine coins at the same time.

I am not a blockchain specialist; but even if I were, any comments, guides, and critiques would still be welcome.

5 thoughts on “How to Fund Smartphone-Based GNSS-R Observations for Lake Ice Remote Sensing; Cryptocurrencies may Help!

  1. In my opinion maybe its better to contact a company who probably already collects this type of data (that may also be anonymous and the customer already “agreed” to their terms) than turning it into another “gig economy application”. I think the intention is good, but also from experience working with these types of apps, you end up spending more time and effort than what you actually earn.

    So the question would be how feasible is it for the customer to participate? How much does 1 hour of measurements earn you and once you have earned the cryptocurrency where can you spend it? Cryptocurrency is still a very limited market and somewhat unknown, therefore you’d have to have customers that are in an area where they can get measurements and who are aware or into cryptocurrency.


    1. Erik,

      Thanks for your valuable comment; I appreciate it. Please find my responses to your critiques below, and let me your opinion please.

      1. The issue that I haven’t mentioned in this article is that this kind of data has no longer been collected since 2000s, neither by government nor by private companies. That’s the reason why researcher are looking for an efficient way to collect this data with a fine temporal and spatial resolution. Although satellite techniques have shown a promising potential in lake ice thickness measurements, their accuracy doesn’t yet meet the required precision. Meanwhile, GNSS-R technique, which is the main subject of this blog, has shown a better accuracy in lake ice thickness measurement. However, it requires individuals to go over lake ice and run the measurement for hours, and therefore, personal motivations and encouragements are required.

      2. To encourage people to do it, there could be other ways rather than offering cryptos; I would welcome all suggestions. But crypto concept is the one that I strongly believe that in a very near future, it’ll become a very common matter in commercial affairs and will achieve the superiority over national currencies. So, it’d be a great way to invest on before its market gets boomed.

      Again, thanks for your challenging comment. Look forward to hearing from you again.


      1. Thanks Yusof for your feedback!

        I was just thinking because they’re currently collecting location data “anonymously” as a way to track the spread of the corona virus, so maybe this could be an option to get data for ice thickness from cell phones. But not sure how the quality of the measurements is effected if the phone is in a pocket, backpack, etc. Having said that that’s great that they no longer collect data in this way anymore.

        I definitely see the potential and its a cool concept. For example the lakes near my house froze over this past winter (which only happens every few years) and it would be an easy way to get the ice thickness to see how safe it is to walk on it. And since it only happens every few years, the cell phone approach would be quite convenient since most people have mobile phones and can see for themselves.

        More towards the article itself I’m not sure I get the connection between cryptocurrency and GNSS-R measurements. One hesitation I would have is, is it worth the amount of cryptocurrency mined during my free time to go out and set up a GNSS-R antenna and sit in the cold for a couple of hours? or if I’m going ice fishing for work or sport, even though it maybe convenient, is the amount of crypto mined worth incorporating? Factors such as how much of an effect does the cold have on my cell phone’s battery or how much of an effect do the app(s) have on my phone’s battery would also be a concern.

        It will be cool to see how the GNSS-R cell phone method progresses and if it is possible, I think a real time, passive application would be feasible for both sides. Where the app is running in the background and the user doesn’t have to think about the antenna setup and can just open the app that shows an ice thickness map for example. And for whoever built the app can provide the app as a “free service” and be clear about how the collected data used. This is of course a very ideal thing 🙂


      2. Erik,

        It’s very inspiring to see your feedback and valuable comments. Your comment made me reorganize what I had in my mind and rethink about every details about this topic. Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.

        To measure ice thickness using GNSS-R, the antenna (here: the smartphone) should be placed exactly on the ice surface. That’s why I thought people spending time over the ice might be a good candidate for being asked to do it. But you’re right; the amount of cryptos mined over that period of time may not be sufficient as an appreciation for this task; however, mining procedure has no significant impacts on mobile battery or processing rate. For example, Pi Network, which is the pioneer in mining cryptos using smartphones has offered a method that you can simply run their mining app in the background with no interference with other apps. Although this crypto is not yet listed among cryptos traded in the market, the concept has a great potential to be used as an appreciation for running other mobile applications. Aside from mining, earning tokens from other chains can be another way, like the way that Bitcoin used to do when its price was not as high as today; you may remember websites gave people Bitcoins if they shared their contents on Facebook 😀 Even now, there are many air drops you can earn by conducting other tasks on other apps. So, I would think that there should be some sponsors out there to give tokens for running the GNSS-R app over lake ice.

        As you said, the final aim of this project is providing a real time map/chart for lake ice thickness, in where input data is provided by users themselves, like what Google Maps or Waze do. However, the difference between Google Maps and our proposed project is the number of users and the complexity of data collection. That’s the reason I suggest offering an appreciation for individuals who contribute in data collections using their phones. And again, as you said, users only need to put their smartphones on the ice and run the app in the background; that’s it. There’s no setup required for on-ice GNSS reflectometry even if we use geodetic standard GPS receivers let alone we use smartphones for this purpose.

        Thanks again for your comments. I’m not sure if my answers explained those vague points you mentioned in your comment. BTW, I’m actively looking forward to hearing your feedback again. I truly appreciate it as it really helps to propose/design/build a system for the future.


      3. Hi Yusof,

        Sorry for the very late response.

        That’s interesting that the mining for crypto doesn’t affect the battery too much but what about the SNR data? Would it be stored on a cloud server or directly on the phone then uploaded later once, for example, wifi is available?

        Another question that crossed my mind is what are the benefits of using cell phones when gnss-r receivers are almost equal in price, maybe sometimes even cheaper and install them near know ice fishing lakes? Like at a ranger station for example.

        Hope all is well!




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