Gainesville Company to Survey Birds off Atlantic Coast (USA)

A Gainesville company is developing some high-tech ways to survey birds off the Atlantic coast through a federal grant to help regulators consider the effects of offshore wind turbines.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement — or BOEMRE — has awarded a $2.5 million grant to Pandion Systems Inc. to conduct research for a new federal offshore wind energy initiative.

Pandion Systems and its subcontractors, which include other local businesses, will study the presence and patterns of wildlife on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf along the coastline from Maine to Miami.

“The challenge is that right now it’s very difficult to gather data out there,” said Christian Newman, president of Pandion.

“Basically in the ocean — it’s a big unknown. It’s a huge place.”

BOEMRE needs information on what birds, bats and other wildlife are out there and where they are, Newman said, so the regulators can make informed decisions about any potential effects wind turbines might have on wildlife.

Pandion Systems, an environmental science, ecology and communications company, will conduct two separate projects for BOEMRE.

One study will monitor passing birds using acoustic microphones and thermal imaging cameras to capture information on bird traffic, according to BOEMRE.

The equipment will be solar-powered, remotely operated and will record flight calls and capture thermal images of the birds 24 hours a day through 2014.

Newman said the researchers are especially concerned about the endangered piping plover, of which there are 1,000 individuals left, and two other bird species that are potentially endangered.

Pandion’s other study, which will take place through 2012, will involve conducting surveys to monitor the seasonal presence of birds, marine mammals and sea turtles.

The study will determine areas that are important to these species, according to BOEMRE. To do this, manned and unmanned aircraft will gather high-definition, digital aerial images of the wildlife, according to Pandion.

Newman said Gainesville-based IATech, which stands for Innovative Automation Technologies, will be a leading subcontractor on both projects.

IATech’s Donald and Erica MacArthur manufacture and develop navigation sensors for unmanned vehicles and remote sensing applications.

The company will help with software development to identify birds or other marine mammals, and will test its unmanned aerial vehicles to see if they can be used for these kinds of surveys, Newman said.

The cost, safety and effectiveness of unmanned versus manned aircraft also will be evaluated.

Newman said similar studies have been done in Europe, but not with unmanned aircraft and not from the heights these will reach.

The height of passing birds, especially at night or in poor visibility, is critical when determining the risk posed by offshore wind turbines to local and migratory bird populations, according to BOEMRE.

Pandion, which was founded in 1997, has 21 employees and is looking to hire five more people, Newman said.

The Gainesville Technology Enterprise Center business incubator introduced Pandion Systems to IATech, according to the organization.

Other subcontractors for the projects include the Cornell (University) Laboratory of Ornithology and the Gainesville companies Adaptive Equipment and RhinoSys Inc.

By Jennifer Waters (gainesville)


Source: gainesville, December 28, 2010