Storm-petrels and Science
There is a great article in Wired magazine about the technological innovations being tested through an ornithological research project. The bird in question is the Leach’s Storm-petrel.Â The habitat is Great Duck Island, a 220-acre arc of land off the coast of Maine. The challenge is the utter remoteness of Great Duck, compounded by the petrelâ€™s preference for nesting in arm-length burrows. The research team is trying to overcome the many obstacles by employing lots of tiny, wireless sensors that monitor barometric pressure, humidity, solar radiation, and temperature and report the readings to a gateway node in a heroic display of pervasive computing.
The technology talk in this article may not be for everyone. However, the technical advances described may turn out to be a big deal. How big? This is what project ornithologist John Anderson has to say about it:
“We just don’t know,” says Anderson, dusting off. This is a sentence he will say over and over during my three days on the island, always emphasizing the last word with a peculiar combination of frustration and delight. And the subtext is always the same: At last, sensor nets will shed light on these most mysterious seabirds. Anderson says the new technology will change biology forever – just as it’s likely to change high-end agriculture and civil engineering. “Up until now, a biologist from the 1920s could have dropped into today’s world and understood everything we do.” He shakes his head. “No longer.” The instruments that unobtrusively observe the petrels will unleash a stream of information biologists have craved for decades. When I ask what other tool has delivered a comparable advance in his field, Anderson’s answer is succinct and telling: “Binoculars.”