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Satellite telemetry: A new tool for wildlife research and management

January 1, 1998

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have cooperated since 1984 to develop and evaluate satellite telemetry as a means of overcoming the high costs and logistical problems of conventional VHF (very high frequency) radiotelemetry systems. Detailed locational and behavioral data on caribou (Rangifer tarandus), polar bears (Ursus maritimus), and other large mammals in Alaska have been obtained using the Argos Data Collection and Location System (DCLS). The Argos system, a cooperative project of the Centre National d'Études Spatiales of France, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is designed to acquire environmental data on a routine basis from anywhere on earth. Transmitters weighing 1.6-2.0 kg and functioning approximately 12-18 months operated on a frequency of 401.650 MHz. Signals from the transmitters were received by Argos DCLS instruments aboard two Tiros-N weather satellites in sun-synchronous, nearpolar orbits. Data from the satellites were received at tracking stations, transferred to processing centers in Maryland and France, and made available to users via computer tape, printouts, or telephone links.

During 1985 and 1986, more than 25,000 locations and an additional 28,000 sets of sensor data (transmitter temperature and short-term and long-term indices of animal activity) were acquired for caribou and polar bears. Locations were calculated from the Doppler shift in the transmitted signal as the satellite approached and then moved away from the transmitter. The mean locational error for transmitters at known locations (n - 1,265) was 829 m; 90% of the calculated locations were within 1,700 m of the true location. Caribou transmitters provided a mean of 3.1 (+5.0. SD) locations per day during 6h of daily operation, and polar bear transmitters provided 1.7 (+6.9SD) locations during 12h of operation every third day. During the first 6 months of operation, the UHF (ultra-high frequency) signal failed on three of 32 caribou transmitters and 10 of 36 polar bear transmitters.

A geographic information system (GIS) incorporating other databases (e.g., land cover, elevation, slope, aspect, hydrology, ice distribution) was used to analyze and display detailed locational and behavioral data collected via satellite. Examples of GIS applications to research projects using satellite telemetry and examples of detailed movement patterns of caribou and polar bears are presented. This report includes documentation for computer software packages for processing Argos data and presents developments, as of March 1987, in transmitter design, data retrieval using a local user terminal, computer software, and sensor development and calibration.

Publication Year 1998
Title Satellite telemetry: A new tool for wildlife research and management
Authors Steven G. Fancy, Larry F. Pank, David C. Douglas, Catherine H. Curby, Gerald W. Garner, Steven C. Amstrup, Wayne L. Regelin
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Series Title Resource Publication
Series Number 172
Index ID 70185511
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center