What's the Big Idea?—Using Weather Equip. to Monitor Animal Movement

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Detailed Description

Robb Diehl, research ecologist at the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, explains how he uses remote sensing technology — particularly weather radar — to better understand  how flying animals affect human activities.

Producer: Jacob Massey, USGS
Camera: Paul Laustsen, USGS



Date Taken:

Length: 00:03:21

Location Taken: Bozeman, MT, US

Video Credits

Camera: Paul Laustsen, USGS


My name is Robb Diehl. I’m a research ecologist at the Northern Mountain Rocky Science Center in Bozeman, Montana. What’s new or innovative about what I do? I use a lot of remote sensing technology, these are technologies that advance along with electronics frequently and so we are always seeing updates in that regards. We apply those technologies to monitoring principle the movements of flying animals. Bats, birds, sometimes insects. We use radars, we use thermal cameras, and we use radio telemetry and other kinds of remote sensing. Again, mostly to look at the movements of animals. My project is innovative in part because we are taking instrumentation that has been designed with a weather related or metrological application in mind and applying to the study of animal movement. And it’s not often, that biologists have the opportunity to take advantage of such large, embedded infrastructure to do their biological work. So that’s just one technical aspect of why it’s innovative. Well, principal challenges … are … there is always a funding challenge. You know are always … we are always struggling to find ways to find people and to convince people to support our work. And when it comes to technical challenges, especially when you, when one is using automation as we do frequently, you gather a lot of information on noise. Non‐target information, and so we spend time writing software or engaged in other activities that are intended to improve the data quality after it’s already been collected and that is an on‐going concern. Success for this project would come in a variety of forms; one in relation to using weather radars to track the movements of flying animals, to develop the technology to be able to mine that information from archives that already exist. So the data is out there, it’s waiting for us to get ahold of it. That would be the first part of the success. The second part of the success would come in the ability to apply those algorithms to answer some of the important questions of how flying animals influence the day to day lives of people. Either in relation to flight safety or informing hunters when the waterfowl movements are coming through. Why am I passionate? I love computing and I love the natural world, which is a strange marriage. That dates back even to my days of entering graduate school. I was looking for people to work with that had a lot of knowledge about computers and programming and a lot of knowledge about ecology and back then, that was an uncommon marriage. Today it is pretty common because technology drives a lot what we do, so I like both the technological aspect and biological aspects of what I do. I started bird watching, when I was nine years old, and so that’s fallen out of favor a little bit because I don’t have as much time to do that anymore, but that’s a testament to how far back my interest in the natural world goes.