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Introducing a 'Space Station Safari' for Conservation

Apr 22, 2015 12:44 AM EDT

Experts have some new plans for the International Space Station (ISS), and they have absolutely nothing to do with space, exploration, or even astronauts. A new investigation will be using the uniquely high vantage point of the orbital space station to help track animals in trouble - the results of which could improve conservation strategies around the world.

The plan in question boasts the science fiction-esque name the "ICARUS Initiative," with the mythological acronym standing for International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space. It will reportedly established a remote network of satellites that will use the ISS almost like a universal hub for various satellite 'safari' projects.

However, unlike your traditional safari, these long-range observations of animals down on Earth won't simply be used for pretty pictures.

"For example, bird migrations are a mind-blowing phenomenon," Meg Crofoot, an anthropologist at the University of California in Davis and an executive board member of ICARUS, said in a statement. "Despite more than 100 years of systematic research, we don't know the routes many of these species take, where they stop along the way or even how often they survive the arduous journey. Understanding the individual decisions made by these animals can provide insight on the behavior and evolution of animals in the wild and perhaps even assuring their continued existence." (Scroll to read on...)

And the ICARUS Initiative will make keeping track of their behavior all the more easier for invested experts. According to the researcher, when the ICARUS hardware is delivered and installed in the Russian segment of the space station in 2016, it will act as a data hub, collecting and pooling information from countless tagging projects across to globe to one central location. This data will then be quickly relayed to researchers on the ground, allowing for data recovery to be quick and easy. (No more fishing through the ocean or asking kind finders to mail tags in!)

"Results from this investigation could provide answers to so many questions," Crofoot added. "Not just for nature conservationists, but also for those studying the impacts animals have on the human population."

Bird migration data, for instance, could help keep both birds and airlines even safer. Nature World News previously reported how, despite the incredible agility that birds posses, the winged creatures still collide with commercial airplanes far too often. This largely has to do with the fact that their brains simply cannot process the sight of an oncoming plane coming at them in time. Anything, ascending plane or automobile windshield, passing that speed limit will break a delicate avain neck's even before it's considered - regardless of some species' own incredible top flight speeds.

Most importantly, the great majority of the data tracked in these 'satellite safaris' will be open to any scientists who can make use of it, easily located in an online repository called Movebank.

"Part of what makes this study so important is the collaborative nature of the project," said Crofoot. "The ability to go from watching only a handful of species to dozens on a global scale is exciting. It has been tremendously rewarding to team with a group of highly diverse scientists working toward the same goal."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).


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