Radar ornithology has provided tools for studying the movement of birds, especially related to migration. Researchers have presented qualitative evidence suggesting that birds, or at least migration events, can be identified using large broad scale radars such as the WSR-88D used in the NEXRAD weather surveillance system. This is potentially a boon for ornithologists because such data cover a large portion of the United States, are constantly being produced, are freely available, and have been archived since the early 1990s. A major obstacle to this research, however, has been that identifying birds in NEXRAD data has required a trained technician to manually inspect a graphically rendered radar sweep. A single site completes one volume scan every five to ten minutes, producing over 52,000 volume scans in one year. This is an immense amount of data, and manual classification is infeasible. We have developed a system that identifies biological echoes using machine learning techniques. This approach begins with training data using scans that have been classified by experts, or uses bird data collected in the field. The data are preprocessed to ensure quality and to emphasize relevant features. A classifier is then trained using this data and cross validation is used to measure performance. We compared neural networks, naive Bayes, and k-nearest neighbor classifiers. Empirical evidence is provided showing that this system can achieve classification accuracies in the 80th to 90th percentile. We propose to apply these methods to studying bird migration phenology and how it is affected by climate variability and change over multiple temporal scales.
Additional Publication Details
New software methods in radar ornithology using WSR-88D weather data and potential application to monitoring effects of climate change on bird migration
International Environmental Modelling and Software Society