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Imagine Planet Earth, but Filmed Entirely From Space

The ICARUS project via MPYC/YouTube

An antenna built by The International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space (ICARUS) project has been installed on the International Space Station (ISS), as part of a larger effort to use big data to track large numbers of animals, giving biodiversity researchers the ability to track migration patterns and behaviors on a global scale, and be able to study the complex interplay between species.

For years, the standard method for data collection on tagged animals was: Catch, tag, release, re-catch to access the data from their tracker. Using this method, researchers were able to track dozens of animals simultaneously. For the last 16 years, ICARUS has worked to develop the smallest possible trackers and strongest antenna, so that the information can be transmitted directly to scientists and be the least disruptive to the animals. With this new technology, researchers are hoping they can track animals on a massive scale - 100,000 individual animals. 

Researchers at the Max-Planck -Yale Center (MPYC) for Biodiversity and Global Change, of which runs and operates ICARUS, believe that this technology will change the way we look at the intersections between animal behavior and public health and safety. Even in the early stages of this technology, researchers have been able to use it to predict volcanic activity by following the movement of goat herds. There are plans to use this technology to track animals that are harbingers of disease, so they can prevent outbreaks of highly infectious diseases like Ebola.

The trackers themselves are getting smaller. ICARUS believes that at the current pace of miniaturization, they will be able to scale down the transmitters so they’re small enough to track desert locusts by 2025. They currently weigh less than 5 grams and boast solar panel, GPS, gyroscope, and more. Researchers are on track to reach 1,000 trackers in the field by early 2019, hoping to eventually grow to 100,000.



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