NASA's next search for life is headed somewhere close to home: into the woods of Wisconsin, where the space agency is partnering with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to create "one of the richest and most comprehensive caches of wildlife data for any spot on our planet."
The project is called Snapshot Wisconsin and it will document the state's wildlife with a network of 4,000 to 5,000 motion-sensing cameras and an array of remote sensing satellites.
"Something like this has never been done before, not for such a large area," UW–Madison Professor of Forest and Wildlife Ecology Phil Townsend explained. "The number of trail cams and the spatial scale we're working on will make this project unique."
The project will not only take candid photos of the local fauna like coyotes, bears and bobcats, but it will also as track their movements through seasonal changes by matching the camera locations with GPS and imaging data from NASA's Terra, Aqua and Landsat satellites. Like other crowdsourced wildlife documentary projects, the Snapshot Wisconsin website allows users help out by flipping through wildlife shots and identifying different species caught on camera. With all this information, the project hopes to document phenomena like bears hibernating when the trees turn brown in the fall and deer births when things turn green in the spring.
The project launched earlier this month with 500 cameras on public land in two counties, but the state's Department of Natural Resources has wants to cover a total of 55,800 square miles -- or most of the state, minus the urban areas. To reach that goal, DNR is hoping landowners will volunteer to host cameras in specific areas and training volunteers to set up and maintain the camera traps.