Preventing Pandemics

Animal Observation from Space Makes It Possible

10. September 2021, 10:44 Uhr   |  Heinz Arnold

Animal Observation from Space Makes It Possible
© Felix Kästle/dpa

Martin Wikelski, project manager of "Icarus," speaks in a conference room before the project's launch in March 2020. Now he knows: The project is going better than expected. Many interesting conclusions can be drawn from the animal migration data.

In the "Icarus" research project, entire animal species can be observed worldwide - and a lot of information can be collected - including the prevention of pandemics.

For the German-Russian project "Icarus" (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space), thousands of animals were fitted with tiny transmitters that send their data to the ISS space station. The researchers want to use them, for example, to study the migratory behavior of birds.

The next step will be to make the animal transmitters even smaller and lighter and to enable them to perform simple calculations themselves, thus reducing the amount of data to be transmitted even further. Project manager Martin Wikelski from the University of Constance sees a lot of potential in the research project. For example, measurement data from vultures in the Himalayas could be used to generate weather data where no weather probe could ever reach. The mass-distributed miniature transmitters could also help analyze animal movements in the fight against poachers or to predict volcanic eruptions.

Animal monitoring using "Icarus" could also be helpful in preventing another pandemic. The project can provide information about animal movements and thus also about the transmission of pathogens to humans. Among others, the Russian space agency Roskosmos and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) are also involved in "Icarus".

The scientific operation of the project had begun on September 10, 2020. In the meantime, it is possible to track entire animal species worldwide, Wikelski said. When "Icarus" was launched a year ago, it was not yet clear how well it would work, because they had not really been able to test the system beforehand, as Martin Wikelski explained. Now it is running much better than expected.

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