What’s the News: The helicopter that crashed during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound earlier this week was a stealth design that the US government had kept secret, according to aviation experts. The military is still keeping mum and the SEALs—keeping with protocol—burned the aircraft after it went down. But information gleaned from photos of the surviving tailboom (the part that holds the rear rotor) and clues from other stealth aircraft suggest the helicopter was an H-60 Blackhawk, heavily modified to escape radar detection and fly more quietly—explaining why Pakistani air forces didn’t detect the helicopters.
In the realm of meteorology, bats, birds, and insects are usually considered “animalas non grata,” since they create unwanted noise in the Doppler radar readouts used to study storms. But now, thanks to better radar station networking and the sharing of unfiltered data, ecologists have realized that these radar systems can be used as powerful animal tracking tools.
At last week’s American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, researchers Thomas Kunz, Winifred Frick, and Phillip Chilson explained how Dopplar data can be used by ecologists. They call their new discipline aeroecology.
This melding of meteorology and ecology started with an “Aha!” moment:
“Dr Kunz and I were meeting Dr Chilson about a year ago over breakfast and they kept talking about the ‘QPE’, and finally I asked what it is,” Dr Frick told the meeting. It stands for quantitative precipitation estimator — a numerical method to measure how much rain there is in a storm front. “I paused and said, ‘you can estimate the number of raindrops in a raincloud? Do you think we could estimate the number of bats in a bat cloud?'” To calibrate their experiment, the team took a bat into a chamber where the degree to which it reflects radio waves could be measured. “From those measurements and using radar, we’ve been able to adapt those QPE measurements to a ‘QBE’ – a quantitative bat estimator,” Dr Frick said. [BBC News]
NASA is sending a radar-equipped jet to conduct flights over Haiti and the Dominican Republic to capture 3-D images that could help predict future earthquakes. An estimated 170,000 people were killed in the 7.0 earthquake that battered Haiti on January 12. Unfortunately, experts predict more quakes as the country is situated in a seismically volatile zone.
A Gulfstream III jet is now on its way to map Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the two nations that share the island of Hispaniola. The Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar, or UAVSAR, was originally on its way to Central America to study volcanoes, forests, and Mayan ruins, but on its way south it will now also study Hispaniola’s fault lines.