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Pigeons with small backpacks collect climate data now



Photo: Rick Thomas

Stable canvas defenders have something new to crow on: The often maligned birds can be the researchers' latest tool for combating air pollution and tracking climate change.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom have developed a small set of sensors that can be attached to the pigeon's back. Rick Thomas, a researcher leading the project, uses the birds to collect data on the city microclimate – the block-by-block variations in temperature, humidity and winds that affect living conditions in larger cities.

"Many people say," Well, why don't you just use a drone? "Thomas says. But drones have obviously caused their fair share of problems in the UK recently." You can't fly drones up there. But the birds-they fly everywhere. "

Fortunately, for the scientists, no wild walking hunting needed to trace their birds. The project is working with local volunteers who lift home care, a variety of the common dove that was selectively born for their ability to find their way home.

Photo: Rick Thomas [19659002] When the birds return to their lofts, the sensors are retrieving and downloading data. Each bird's backpack collects temperature, humidity and ambient light, as well as GPS mode and air pressure.

When designing the sensors, the team followed strict guidelines to ensure The whole package is less than 3 percent of the pigeon body weight, which is the standard for fitting wild animals with scientific equipment.Tom's wife designed and sewed the harness that keeps the sensors on the birds and repeats many times before deciding for the design that was best for the pigeons.

"If [the pigeon owners] is not satisfied with any aspect by putting the sensors on their back, then they do not need to fly their birds, Thomas says. "The well-being of the birds is crucial."

So far, the five birds participating in the project have logged in combined 41 flights and covered nearly 1,000 kilometers. An extension of the project to other cities would require more pigeons to volunteer their birds for customs and more money.

Photo: Rick Thomas

"[Pigeon keeping] is not as popular as it once was, which is a little shame," says Thomas.

Every sensor package goes around $ 250, making it An inexpensive solution for obtaining data in hard-to-reach places, while Thomas is still working on calibration problems with some of the sensors, he is convinced of the temperature measurements – the aspect of the project that he tried hardest to perfect.

The data collected by the pigeons can Help scientists predict how air pollution travels around cities, which in turn can make decisions on where to build key factors such as hospitals and schools. Identifying hotspots can also help public officials to adapt climate change policies, as our cities continue to heat Additional sensor development, such as gas sensors, can give researchers and policy makers similar direct images of pollution

In the end, Thomas hopes to develop a sensor that is energetically self-supporting and allows him to equip wild birds. The addition of solar panels can prove to be too much for a small pigeon to wear, so he thinks instead of pulling them on seagulls. Wild bird equipment would also require the ability to transmit data, but Thomas has an answer for that too – utilizing the open Wi-Fi networks in places you are likely to find such flocking birds.

So if you see a fashionable feather friend flapping around the next time you visit Britain, don't be scared. It's just doing his job.


Giuliana Viglione is a freelance science journalist based in Southern California. She likes pre-industrial levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and dislikes inequality in STEM. Follow her on Twitter or see more of her work.


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