Space | 17. August 2018 | posted by Elke Heinemann

ICARUS - Understanding and protecting life on Earth by giving animals an opportunity to communicate with us

Quelle: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)
ICARUS: Global monitoring of the movement of birds and small animals

If animals could talk, they could tell us a lot about life on our planet. Their migratory movements help us to better understand how to protect human health and wildlife on Earth. Yet scientists are unable to follow small animals and insects on their long journey. Billions of songbirds move every year from continent to continent. Bats and countless insect species may do the same, but we don’t know for sure. This knowledge could provide insights into animal behaviour, the spread of epidemics such as bird flu and Ebola, the impact of climate change, as well as food security in some regions. It would also help predict natural disasters by tapping the highly developed senses of animals, which often react faster to such dangers than humans do.

In order to observe the global migratory movements of small animals through a satellite system, the ICARUS (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space) initiative is using miniaturised transmitters attached to animals to collect data on their migration patterns.##markend##These solar-cell-powered tags, weighing less than five grams, track the animal through the Global Positioning System (GPS) before this information is transmitted to the antenna, which was mounted on the International Space Station (ISS) on 15 August 2018. The ICARUS Operations Center on the ground then receives the data through the ISS ground station network for processing and storage in a scientific database called Movebank. Scientists on the ground can also reconfigure the tags through a reverse process.

The ISS provides multiple overflights covering large sections of the Earth’s surface, allowing for collection of more data than would otherwise be possible. This enables the simultaneous reception of a large number of miniaturised transmitters within range of the three ICARUS receive antennas located on the ISS. Orbiting the Earth 16 times per day, the ISS delivers short repetition cycles in the higher latitudes – where most of the planet’s land surface can be found – and optimal read-out frequency for the ICARUS tags. In this way, the ISS provides a platform that enables animals to communicate with humans in an effective way.

Science and society

ICARUS – a collaborative effort with Russia's space agency Roscosmos – is contributing to five of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals: Zero Hunger (2), Good Health and Well-Being (3), Life Below Water (14), Life on Land (15) and Partnerships for the Goals (17). These goals are included in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as an action plan for people, planet and prosperity.

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About the author

Elke Heinemann has been an editor for the DLR web portal since 2003. She has been responsible for the developmen of special sites for missions, such as the Rosetta mission, the International Space Station and Mars Express, for the web portal. to authorpage