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Citizen science, big data and birds

Deirdre Wilson – Thursday, October 29, 2015   


Migratory birds fly at night. Obviously right? Well they aren't sitting around waiting for the sun to come up before they take off in a big flock and continue their journey. But before radar technology became available, few people knew about migrating birds flying at night.

It was only in the years following WW11 and after the invention of radar that research into bird migration took place. Incredible amounts of human and financial resources went into researching collected data consisting of recorded flight calls and radar images -exhausting work. That initial research took place pre citizen science - where science or research is crowdsourced to amateurs or non-professional scientists monitor and gather.

Now artificial intelligence analyses data downloaded from radar stations along with weather data that helps it differentiate birds from wind and rain. The archive of radar images is also being analysed providing information about changes over time. The findings could help provide information about climate change and bird extinctions.

Why has this piqued my interest? Because it is made me think about my grandparents. In their lifetime they saw the development of the car, man walking on the moon, aeroplanes, dentistry, vaccination, nylon, computers and countless other amazing things. And still remarkable changes happen - many of those changes are to our understanding of how the world works.

The ability to collect and analyse enormous amounts of data is unlocking such interesting information that better enables us to make informed decisions about how to act. Pulling it back very close to home: any time understanding is drawn from data that has been transformed into an understandable format it reminds me of why I enjoy so much what we do at Hothouse Design. The stories that are revealed from the patterns inherent in data are a fun thing for us to produce.

To see more about how we have pulled a story from a bunch of data, have a look at this case study. And look out for birds flying at night. Like buying a pink car and then seeing pink cars everywhere, now that you know birds are migrating at night you will spot them out there soaring around the place. 

Further Reading

More on interpreting big data in an aesthetically beautiful way:
- Mapping 170 years of hurricanes and the path to wisdom

This post is by Deirdre Wilson, Director of Hothouse Design – Australia's most sensible information design company.
Deirdre applies her background in industrial design and design management to the complex and wondrous projects undertaken by Hothouse Design.

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