Topic 2 Project Description

The end of the semester is in 4 weeks and I need a concise plan for what I'm actually going to do for this research project on light pollution.


I am going to do a critical design project that will examine the impact of light pollution on bird migration.

As I've learned over the past few weeks, light pollution is a growing problem that unfortunately isn't generally accepted as an actual problem. There are serious consequences to our ecology because of light pollution. We lose the ability to see the night sky. Our circadian rhythms are disrupted. Bird migrations are thrown off course. Astronomers can't study the stars.

This is a large topic so I am going to focus on bird migrations and how birds are impacted by light pollution.

Research Questions and Answers

The specific question I'd like to address for this project is how I can design a migration guidance system for birds to prevent them from being distracted by the light pollution from large cities.

To answer that I need to learn a lot more about how birds navigate while migrating. This is a well researched subject with much scientific literature available. Right now I don't know anything about how birds orient themselves while migrating. Is it the sun? The stars? The earth's magnetic field? A combination of these things? I need to know this to design a sensible system for influencing the flight path of birds.

Given some mechanism for impacting the flight path of birds, I need to have some rational process for improving their migration patterns. I have access to light pollution data so I know the regions that birds should avoid, but most likely there will be tradeoffs for altering their paths. A flight diversion will cost the birds time, and that extra time will have risks associated with it. A good result here would balance the risk of altering the migration patterns with the current risks and consequences created by light pollution.

Data Sources and Analysis

For this project I need light pollution data and bird migration data.

What I need for the migration data is the specific flight paths of birds. I can find lots of graphics online with this information such as the one on this page showing the migrations in North America. That graphic is made with the data I want to use. I need to get access to the raw data so I explore how those flight paths match up with the light pollution data.

I have recently obtained bird distribution data from BirdLife Interational. I have not actually looked at the data yet though so it might not be well suited for my needs. I also found a source for real-time bird migration forecasts. That's not quite what I need as I want to use aggregate historical data. I need to find other sources. Worst case I can figure out how to extract it from the migration graphics I find online.

Light pollution data is easy. There is this data from the Globe at Night organization that is freely available to download. I also obtained the research data behind the previously cited paper The new world atlas of artificial night sky brightness. Those datasets should be sufficient for my needs.

This is a critical design project that will also involve some interesting data analysis and modeling. I'm eager to work with geospacial data, which is something I've been curious about for a long time. I'm glad I will get a chance to dive into this now.

What Should the Project DO?

My intended audience for this project is environmentally conscious people who are eager to learn more about humanity's impact on planet Earth. I want this to be a critical design project that communicates to the viewer the seriousness of the issue and the lengths we'd have to go through to protect birds if we take our current light pollution growth trajectory as a given. Altering a bird's migration path isn't really feasible, however, leaving us with only one option: address light pollution directly and reduce the amount of light illuminating the night sky.