Why give a flock about bird migration?

Why give a flock about bird migration?

It’s the end of my second week at SURFsara, and I’m off to a flying start. As much as I would love to get into the nitty gritty of my project and all of its technical components, I will save that for a later post. Instead, I want to give my dear audience a quick update on the context of my project: Birds. 

The key clients for this project are ornithologists from the e-Ecology department at the University of Amsterdam. This department is keenly focused on accurately predicting migration patterns for different bird species, and across different migratory seasons. These ornithologists use two data sources when conducting their research on these patterns: 

  1. GPS trackers (little bird backpacks), and 
  2. Meteorological radar data (typically used for weather forecasts, but also capable of identifying objects).
Falcon with GPS tracker

The focus of my project is on improving the way in which these scientists are able to load and analyse the latter. As I was briefed on this project, the question I kept coming back to was: why? Why is it so important to analyse and predict bird migration and the influence of weather on these patterns? Well, it turns out there is a surprisingly varied number of reasons. 

Fact sheet:

  • Bird strikes are the second leading cause of aviation-related fatalities.
  • More than 400 people have died in the last 30 years as a result of bird collisions with aircraft.
  • Airports all around the world hire ‘bird controllers’ to prevent bird strikes.
  • About 200,000 birds are killed every year in collisions with windmills.
Wind farms can be very dangerous for migrating flocks

The GPS data collected from birds shows that these animals are not consistent in the timing or route chosen for migration. It is clear that the weather has a direct impact on how these migratory patterns change, but the nature of this relationship requires further analysis. Some of the real-world implications of accurately predicting bird migration are:

  • The aviation industry as well as Air Forces across the globe adjusting the location or timing of flights.
  • Wind farms stopping or slowing their wind turbines when a large number of birds are flying through.
  • Switching off lights in tall buildings and communication towers, which have been known to confuse birds flying at night.

Ok, that’s all for now folks! Hope you enjoyed the sneak beak (sorry, not sorry) into my summer project 🙂

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Hi all! I'm Allison, and I have the great pleasure of being one of the participants in the 2019 Summer of HPC Program.  I am Canadian born, Australian raised, and I have just finished studying in Spain. My professional background is in analytics and research, and my recently completed Masters in Big Data Solutions led me to the PRACE summer program. Following this exciting orientation week in Bologna, I will be heading to Amsterdam. There, I will spend eight weeks working on a Data Architecture project with the e-Ecology team at SURFsara. The goal is to improve how ornithologists query and analyse bird migration radar data. My expertise is more in analytics and Data Science (rather than Data Engineering), so this summer is going to be an exciting new challenge! I can't wait to begin :)

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4 comments on “Why give a flock about bird migration?
  1. Madalene says:

    Allison this is great! If everyone in their industry got on board with the communication of birds and their movements looks like things will really improve.

  2. Jim says:

    Sounds really cool

  3. Carolyn says:

    Thanks for sharing…it’s fascinating! Will it all be worked out before I get on my next flight?

  4. Rebecca says:

    Sounds like a great project, can’t wait to read more about it!

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