Night vision could protect birds and bats from wind farms

The same technology that lets soldiers see in the dark can also help protect birds and bats near offshore wind turbines. 

Night vision goggles use thermal imaging, which captures infrared light that's invisible to the human eye, and now, researchers are using thermal imaging to help birds and bats near offshore wind farms. 

The thermal tracking software automatically detects birds and bats, which is useful for night tracking they're hard to spot - and it could help inform policymakers about where new and existing offshore wind turbines should be placed.

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The thermal tracking software automatically detects birds and bats, which is useful for tracking them at night when they're hard to spot . It could help inform policymakers about where new and existing offshore wind turbines should be placed

The thermal tracking software automatically detects birds and bats, which is useful for tracking them at night when they're hard to spot . It could help inform policymakers about where new and existing offshore wind turbines should be placed

The thermal imaging software, developed by researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), is called ThermalTracker.

'ThermalTracker can help developers and regulators make informed decisions about siting and operating offshore wind projects,' said PNNL engineer Dr Shari Matzner, who leads ThermalTracker's development. 

'We need scientific tools like this to better understand how offshore wind turbines can coexist with birds and bats.' 

The software can help determine if there are many birds or bats near an offshore wind project, and if they could be affected by the project. 

If they were to be affected, policy makers can consider adjusting the location of a proposed project or modifying an existing project. 

Biologists at the non-profit Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) 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. 

HOW THE TRACKING SOFTWARE WORKS  

For a long time, researchers have used thermal imaging to observe bats, which are nocturnal and can't be seen with traditional video at night.

However, while thermal cameras can see general animal shapes, the don't provide clear images or color, which makes identifying animals difficult. 

But software developed by the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest Laboratory uses an algorithm that can identify birds and bats based on their flight behaviors.

The ThermalTracker software specifically evaluates two characteristics: the shape of the path that birds or bats take to fly from point A to B, and how frequently their wings beat up and down. 

The software evaluates thermal video for these behaviors and then determines whether the observed animals are bats or belong to bird families such as gulls, terns or swallows. 

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's (PNNL) ThermalTracker software analyzes thermal video to help birds and bats near offshore wind farms. PNNL engineer Shari Matzner is shown here with a thermal video camera she's using for this research

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's (PNNL) ThermalTracker software analyzes thermal video to help birds and bats near offshore wind farms. PNNL engineer Shari Matzner is shown here with a thermal video camera she's using for this research

The research team is also working on creating a system that has 'stereo vision,' or 3D video by using two thermal cameras instead of just one. 

3D video provides depth perception, which helps determine if birds are flying at the heights where turbines spin and if birds are avoiding already existing turbines.  

Winds are stronger over the ocean than on land, and the Department of Energy (DOE) estimates the US could potentially generate nearly double the amount of electricity it currently uses if we captured the energy in winds that blow off our 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. 

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's ThermalTracker software analyzes thermal video to help birds and bats near offshore wind farms. Pictured is a close-up look at the thermal video that PNNL's software analyzes

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's ThermalTracker software analyzes thermal video to help birds

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