Offshore Wind: Watching Birds and Bats

By MarEx 2017-08-12 21:09:44

A new software system has been developed that automatically categorizes birds and bats from thermal imaging video to help protect these animals from offshore wind turbines.

Night vision goggles use thermal imaging, which captures infrared light that’s invisible to the human eye, and researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are using this technology in the new application, called ThermalTracker.

The software can help determine if there are many birds or bats near an offshore wind project area and if they could be affected by the project. If that’s the case, officials can consider adjusting the location or modifying an existing project’s operations.

Biologists at the non-profit Biodiversity Research Institute are testing the system this summer to determine how well it identifies birds compared to their field observations in Maine, one of the states considering offshore wind power.

American officials are aiming to make U.S. offshore wind environmentally responsible, including limiting its impact on birds and bats near American shores. Today, most wind power sites are evaluated for birds and bats by biologists who stand in a field and take notes on what they see. For offshore wind power sites, scientists board a boat, but can only observe in daylight and when the weather cooperates. Remote sensing technologies could enable longer-term bird and bat monitoring that is also less expensive and labor-intensive.

Scientists have long used thermal imaging to observe bats, which are nocturnal and can’t be seen with traditional video at night. But while thermal cameras see general animal shapes when visibility is low, they don’t provide clear images or color, which makes identifying animals difficult.

PNNL’s solution involves algorithms that can identify birds and bats based on their flight behaviors. The ThermalTracker software specifically…

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