Animal funds

How Icarus uses the ISS to collect data on animals on Earth

A computer in space is helping researchers connect to the movements of animals on Earth thanks to a project led by the Max Planck Society in Germany. It’s called the International cooperation for animal research using spaceor Icarus for short, and it is used to track the behaviors and migrations of birds, batsturtles, bearcheetahs, jaguars, and more. The project uses an array of wearable sensors on animals to transmit data from the field to a Icarus antenna on the International Space Station.

The goal is to create aweb of animalswhich can tell researchers how ecosystems are changing in real time and how animals are responding to those changes. This, they imagine, would be done by combining information from wildlife wearable devices with other information on the behavior of animals in space, time and different environments.

“Animals, through countless individual movement decisions, seek out their preferred conditions, sensing the quality and health of ecosystems in real time,” Martin Wikelski, research director at the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Germany , said in a press release.

In an article published this week in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolutionthe team provides an overview of the data they have been able to collect so far with the system and outlines what they imagine the next steps will be.

Icarus went officially online in March 2020. A pilot project to migration of blackbirds across continents and climatic conditions began a few months later.

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Before the system could be activated, researchers and volunteers had to equip different animals of various species with small labels containing sensors that could record information about the animal’s GPS position, movements and surroundings. These transmitters, which weigh only a few grams, contain a lithium-ion battery, radio, GPS and a control module with sensors to measure acceleration, magnetic fields, temperature, humidity and pressure. The battery, which enables measurements and data transfer, can be recharged via the solar cell at the top of the plastic case. Two antennas come out of the transmitter: one 200mm long for radio transmission and one 50mm long for GPS.

The beacon will be transmit data whenever the space station is within radio range. Each data packet is typically around 220 bytes and can be relayed in 3.5 seconds. The ISS receiver computer processes and transmits the data to a ground control center, which distributes it to the scientists of the Icarus team. After the team crawls through the data, it stores it in an open online database called Movebankhosted by the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior (the database receives funding NASA and NSF). The team even built motion profiles for some animals of the Icarus system.

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Beyond the space system, Icarus also has a citizen science arm. A free animal tracking app is publicly available, and users can document animal sightings as well as upload photos that are shared with scientists through the Movebank database.

In the discussion section of their forum, the team asked for more scientists around the world to use and contribute to the system to help advance the data collection and research potential of the technology to study cycles. of animal life, the movement of zoological species Pathogensinteractions between animals and humans, and animal responses to natural disasters.

Currently, the Max Planck-Yale Center is fundraising to purchase more sensors, which cost around $300 per transmitter beacon. Icarus is also discussing with NASA and German space agencies the possibility of using satellites for data collection, according to the Press release. The long-term mission is to build a cohort of approximately 100,000 animal sentinels of 500 species of birds, mammals and reptiles capable of providing real-time data every half hour.