ICARUS Is More Than A Greek God

February 26, 2021
Credit: Dr.Martin Wikelsi via @icarus

In Greek mythology, Icarus is the son of a craftsman who tried to escape from an island with wings made of wax (spoiler alert: he flew too close to the sun and the wings melted.) But the ICARUS we’re talking about is actually an acronym, which stands for International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space. It’s a project that tracks animals from space so we can better understand migration and movement. The health of our world relies on clean air and water, but it also depends on our ecosystems. And animals are a big part of Earth’s ecosystems, providing us with clues and hints on how we’re doing on the planet. But imagine there being a way to track everything from zebra migration to bird migration and even insects’ habits across the globe? Dubbed the internet of animals, the ICARUS project relies on cheap and affordable tracking devices that can be attached to any being—from small insects to larger predators. The affordability of the project also means that instead of tagging just a few, scientists can tag entire flocks or herds. And the best part? The information transmitted will include more than just the location, it’ll include the environment and the animal’s body. Animal tracking today is rather advanced—decades ago, scientists had to tag a small number of animals with giant-sized tags, which were often prone to damage. Today, tags are as small as a fingernail and could eventually weigh less than a gram, meaning they can be used to tag lightweight animals and birds too! If you think you’ll have to wait for years to find out what ICARUS has learned, that’s not so. The project also aims to create a tracker so that anyone can download animal patterns on their phone and see how migrations occur around the world.