168 — Australia’s continental-scale acoustic tracking database and its automated quality control process
Tracking migration of different species is immensely helpful when understanding environmental factors’ impacts on local and global ecosystems. For example, it is hugely valuable to understand how ocean life is affected by El Niño or an oil spill. But it is also very difficult to track animal migration underwater because of the difficulty of tracking individuals: It often requires tagging animals, or other labor-intensive and sometimes dangerous or hazardous processes. Deep-water tracking is often impossible due to the impermeability of water to radio waves, light, or other signals.
If only there were a way to deploy a continental-scale acoustic tracking database!
IMOS, or “Integrated Marine Observing System,” is a widely deployed (open-source!) acoustic tracking array that records audio signal to determine the location of individuals or populations of animals. (Similar systems exist in South Africa, North America, and elsewhere in the world.) Over 800 IMOS receivers transmit data to relational databases which store the immense troves of data for later analysis by researchers or by you — the data are available at the IMOS homepage.
The data ecosystem includes automatic quality control systems: Individual detections can be flagged if it suggests that an animal moved over a threshold distance or over a threshold speed. Likewise, entire classes of detections can be flagged if it suggests that a certain species or population has moved outside of its most common geographic distribution.
This is a really neat marriage of straight data analysis with domain-specific knowledge: The resultant analyses would be much less useful if the marine biology knowledge weren’t used to filter out “garbage” or impossible inputs.