News / USA

    Weather Radar Tracks Bats, Birds, Bugs

    America’s 156-station network provides continent-wide picture of life in the sky

    Brazilian free-tailed bats in flight as they emerge from a cave in Texas.
    Brazilian free-tailed bats in flight as they emerge from a cave in Texas.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Rosanne Skirble

    The sky is full of life. Now a Boston University biologist is taking a cue from weather forecasters by using radar to get a fuller picture of what happens high above the ground.



    "The technology has improved things to the extent that we can see things that we couldn’t see before," says Tom Kunz, who also puts tiny transmitters on bats and birds and uses special thermal imaging tools to track them.

    Kunz stumbled on the idea of using radar when he heard about radar stations in Texas that had mistakenly switched from the weather-only mode to the clear-air channel. That signal includes what Kunz calls bio-scatter: bats, birds and bugs. The operators were at first puzzled because they saw clouds on what was a clear night.  

    Tom Kunz trapping bats in Framingham, Mass.
    Tom Kunz trapping bats in Framingham, Mass.

    "And the clouds spread out and about midnight they came back again." Kunz says what the radar showed was clouds of bats on their nocturnal feeding.

    Meteorologists routinely filter out the atmospheric bio-mass to make weather predictions.  Kunz regards those readings from America’s 156 radar-station network as a continent-wide link to a previously untapped trove of biological information.

    "We can actually determine where and when bats or birds are moving across the landscape and use that information to help design locations for wind turbines which would not then be killing as many bats and birds as they are now," he says.

    Radar data is updated every five minutes and researchers have access to 20 years of archived data.

    Kunz and postdoctoral fellow Winifred Frick, at the University of California Santa Cruz, have started posting that information on an Website called SOAR, short for Surveillance of Aeroecology using weather Radars.  

    Frick says SOAR is a work in progress which continually surprises her, like the night she logged on to watch a Texas bat cave and saw a wave of insects trapped in an air mass in front of the cave.

    "The air mass passed over the bat caves right at sunset and the bats come out and they just forage right along it. It’s like a big buffet line of insects for them," says Frick. "That’s behavior we’ve never seen before because these guys are flying at night and how are we going to observe that if we didn’t have a tool like radar."

    A NOAA mobile storm-chasing radar vehicles is deployed outside a bat cave at dusk.
    A NOAA mobile storm-chasing radar vehicles is deployed outside a bat cave at dusk.

    Frick spoke on a panel at the American Association for the Advancement of Science with Tom Kunz and University of Oklahoma meteorologist Philip Chilson. She explains the pressing question that brought the three together: "Do you think we could estimate the number of bats in a bat cloud? Oh? Sure.  So that actually initiated this collaboration."

    That collaboration set in motion an experiment that could measure radio waves reflected from a single bat, much in the same way radio waves had been calculated from a single raindrop.

    Knowing the density of those nightly forays, Frick says, could help advance studies in animal behavior, migration patterns and regional biosphere responses to shifts in climate over time and space.

    Among his bat tracking tools Boston University bat expert Thomas Kunz uses thermal imaging and weather radar.
    Among his bat tracking tools Boston University bat expert Thomas Kunz uses thermal imaging and weather radar.

    "So we can look at a number of different sites all at once.  And that will give us a really good picture about the health of these populations. And this particular species, Brazilian free-tailed bats, does an enormous job for agriculture in terms of eating agricultural crop pests."

    Frick sees great promise in the use of radar to chart the biosphere and welcomes collaborators to help move the technology forward. She is also hoping that on some clear cloudless evening the local weathercaster will decide to turn on the bio-scatter radar channel and report on the overhead clouds of bats.

    You May Like

    Multimedia Obama Calls on Americans to Help the Families of Its War Dead

    In last Memorial Day of his presidency, Obama lays wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conferencei
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    May 30, 2016 5:11 PM
    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora