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A new study has found that space weather that disrupts satellites and causes power outages also affects the way birds fly.
Scientists at the University of Michigan (UM) have found that migratory birds get lost when the sun emits electromagnetic radiation and charged particles that hit the Earth’s magnetic field.
Nocturnal birds – such as geese and swans, sandpipers and thrushes – use the Earth’s magnetic field as a natural navigation aid to orient themselves on their long seasonal migrations.
But when space weather disrupts the magnetic field, fewer birds choose to fly, and those that do often become disoriented or lost due to the disruptions to their navigation.
Nocturnal birds – such as geese and swans, sandpipers and thrushes – use the Earth’s magnetic field as a natural navigation aid to orient themselves on their long seasonal migrations
Researchers have long known that birds rely on the Earth’s magnetic field to find their way during their migration. and vagrancy has previously been associated with it and solar activity, which can cause auroras in the night sky and disrupt the Earth’s magnetic field.
The new findings are based on extensive long-term data sets, which for the first time demonstrate the previously unknown connection between nocturnal bird migration and geomagnetic disturbances.
The team used a 23-year dataset of bird migration across the U.S. Great Plains, a key migration corridor.
Birds choose this route because the Pains extend for more than miles through the center of the country, stretching from Texas in the south to North Dakota near the Canadian border.
Communities of nocturnal migratory birds in this region consist primarily of a diverse group consisting of three-quarters (73 percent) perching birds such as thrushes and warblers, 12 percent wading birds including sandpipers and plovers, and one-tenth (nine percent) water birds such as ducks, Geese and swans.
But when space weather disrupts the magnetic field, fewer birds choose to fly, and those that do often become disoriented or lost due to the disruptions to their navigation
The researchers used images collected at 37 NEXRAD radar stations in the central flight path, including 1.7 million radar scans from the fall and 1.4 million from the spring.
The researchers compared each radar station’s data to a tailored geomagnetic disturbance index, which represents the maximum hourly change from background magnetic conditions.
U-M space scientist Daniel Welling explained the difficulties of his study: “The biggest challenge was combining such a large data set – years of observations of the Earth’s magnetic field – into a geomagnetic disturbance index for each radar site.”
“Assessing data quality and validating our final data product required a lot of work to ensure it was appropriate for this study.”
The research team’s trove of data was fed into two complementary statistical models to measure the effects of magnetic disturbances on bird migration.
The models took into account the known effects of weather, temporal variables such as nighttime, and geographic variables such as longitude and latitude.
The researchers found that fewer birds migrate during space weather disturbances.
They also found that during geomagnetic disturbances in the fall, those who still hike are more likely to drift with the wind, rather than making great efforts to combat the crosswind.
Lead author Ben Winger, assistant professor in the UM Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and curator of birds at the UM Zoological Museum, explained, “We found broad support that migration intensity decreases under strong geomagnetic disturbance.”
“Our results provide ecological context for decades of research on the mechanisms of magnetoreception in animals by revealing the community-wide effects of space weather on migration dynamics.”
The researchers found that the “effort” to fly into the wind was reduced by a quarter under cloudy skies during strong fall solar storms, suggesting that a combination of obscured sky signals and magnetic interference could hinder the birds’ navigation .
Lead author Eric Gulson-Castillo, a graduate student in UM’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, said, “Our results suggest that fewer birds migrate during strong geomagnetic disturbances and that migratory birds may have greater difficulty navigating, especially in cloudy conditions Sky in autumn.” .
“As a result, they may have to expend less effort on active navigation in flight and consequently fly more aligned with the wind.”
“Our results highlight how animal decisions depend on environmental conditions – including those that we as humans cannot perceive, such as geomagnetic disturbances – and that these behaviors influence animal movement patterns at the population level.”