Cold War satellite imagery helps track marmot populations

(ORDO NEWS) — Almost immediately after the launch of the first artificial Earth satellite in the United States, they began to develop a program for tracking ground objects in the USSR from orbit. The Corona project lasted from 1959 to 1972 and included six imaging spacecraft. To our time, these images have lost the secrecy stamp and are stored in the open archives of the US Geological Survey (USGS).

Catalina Munteanu and her colleagues at the Humboldt University of Berlin suggested using these data to study changes in the ranges of threatened animal species, the number of which has declined sharply during this time. As an example, scientists analyzed the images, evaluating the distribution in Kazakhstan of steppe marmots ( marmots ) – today and in the 1960s.

Baixaki live in large perennial colonies, arranging both temporary and permanent burrows. In satellite photographs of the Cold War, scientists identified more than 5,000 such settlements, comparing them with modern images. As a result, it was found that the marmot population in the region over the past half century has declined by 14 percent. Moreover, in the territories that have been actively used for agriculture since the development of virgin lands , this drop amounted to 60 percent.

The authors note that baybaks remain committed to their burrows even after they have been destroyed, trying to return and repair damage. However, this activity requires a lot of effort and energy, and if human activity leads to the regular destruction of homes, animals become depleted over time and it becomes increasingly difficult to survive. Apparently, this happens with marmots in the Kazakh steppes.

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