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Are the birds walking? NASA Giovanni characterizes 2012 GBBC conditions

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual citizen science project

Are the birds walking?  NASA Giovanni characterizes 2012 GBBC conditions

Red-shouldered hawk from the GBBC image gallery, photographed by Marshall Faintich of Nellysford, Virginia.

Are the birds walking?  NASA Giovanni characterizes 2012 GBBC conditions

Every year since 1999, the Great Backyard Bird Count of the Cornell Laboratory for Ornithology and the Audubon Society has enlisted amateur birdwatchers to observe birds in their local area, creating a census of birds around the country and in North America, including Canada.   The basic method of the GBBC is simple;  participants observe and tally birds around their homes and in nearby locations, recording the largest number of each species that they see.  

The World Wide Web enables participants to submit their bird count checklists, which are then used to create graphical images of the bird distributions and numbers.   The GBBC tallies provide researchers with the ability to evaluate bird populations in North America, potentially detecting interesting trends in the numbers of birds and their distribution around the country.

For example, the map below shows the sightings of red-shouldered hawks in the Mid-Atlantic region during this year's GBBC.   At my location in Maryland, two red-shouldered hawks were sighted circling in the sky above the backyard feeders.  Red-shouldered hawks have preyed on juncos, pigeons, and even an American goldfinch around the feeders, but this pair stayed in the air.

 

 GBBC Observations of Red-Shouldered Hawks, Mid-Atlantic Region, 2012

 

Weather conditions will usually be a factor in the observation of birds;   for example, when there is considerable snow on the ground, some bird species will rely more on backyard feeders for their nutritional needs.  Also, weather conditions can determine when plant species start to flower or release seeds, or if aerial hunters like hawks, eagles, and ospreys can spy prey on the ground and in the water.

The NASA Giovanni data visualization and analysis system provides a relatively simple way to examine weather conditions that could influence bird distributions and behavior.   For the 2012 GBBC, which took place February 17-20, winter weather conditions were quite mild over much of North America.    Giovanni was used to generate maps of aerosol optical depth, relative humidity, precipitation, cloud fraction, and surface temperature averaged over the four-day period of the count, shown below.    Snow cover for February is not yet available, so a map of January 2012 fractional snow cover was created (though we all know one big storm could considerably alter that map).  For more recent daily snow cover information, the MODIS Snow and Sea Ice Global Mapping Project provides daily North American Snow Cover images.

Giovanni allows both the citizen scientists of the GBBC and professional ornithologists the capability to examine environmental conditions which might affect the distribution and observation of wild birds during the annual event.

 

GBBC_AIRS_surface_temperature_asc_Feb17-20_2012

Figure 1.  Surface air temperature from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) averaged over the GBBC dates of February 17-20, 2012.  The temperature scale is in Kelvin, corresponding to a range of -37 to +34 degrees C (-34 to +93 degrees F).   Temperatures in the continental United States ranged from approximately -23 to +25 degrees C (-9 to +77 degrees F).  Click on the image for a full-size version.

GBBC_AIRS_relative_humidity_asc_Feb17-20_2012

Figure 2.  Relative humidity from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), averaged over the GBBC dates of February 17-20, 2012.  Click on the image for a full-size version.

 

GBBC_MODIS_AOD_Feb17-20_2012

Figure 3.  Aerosol Optical Depth from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra spacecraft, averaged over the GBBC dates of February 17-20, 2012.   Click on the image for a full-size version.

 

GBBC_MODIS_Cloud_Fraction_Feb17-20_2012

Figure 4.   Day and Night Cloud Fraction from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra spacecraft, averaged over the GBBC dates of February 17-20, 2012.  Click on the image for a full-size version.

 

GBBC_TRMM_precipitation_Feb17-20_2012

Figure 5.  Precipitation in mm/hr from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) experimental near-real-time data product, averaged over the GBBC dates of February 17-20, 2012.   The TRMM observational area does not extend over the entire North American continent.  Click on the image for a full-size version.

 

GBBC_MERRA_frac_snow_cover_Jan_2012

Figure 6.  Fractional snow-covered area over North America for January 2012 from the Modern Era Retrospective-analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) project.  Snow cover in the United States during the 2011-2012 winter has been significantly less than for the 2010-2011 winter. Click on the image for a full-size version.

 

GBBC_MERRA_frac_snow_cover_USA48_Jan_2012

Figure 7.  Fractional snow-covered area over the continental United States for January 2012 from the Modern Era Retrospective-analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) project.  Snow cover in the United States during the 2011-2012 winter has been significantly less than for the 2010-2011 winter.  Click on the image for a full-size version.

 


Text and Giovanni images created by Dr. James Acker.  For more information about Giovanni and the earth science data it holds, contact the NASA Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center Giovanni Help Desk.

The GES DISC is a NASA earth science data center, part of the NASA Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) Project.

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Last updated: Mar 01, 2012 11:39 AM ET
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