Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Lessons Learned and Up Next - DRASTIC

Well I finished up my last weather project. You can see the results here . For that project I created two weather stations and compared the temperature on the Virgin Mountain at 7,100 ft. and in Logandale at my house at 1,400 ft on the same line of latitude. The results of the project were that I found the temperature difference was 24.6 degrees or roughly .004297 per foot of elevation gain. It seems kind of sad to summarize the whole project up in one succinct sentence or really one number. This project was fairly involved and actually took me a couple different tries running up and down the mountain over the course of a month to collect the data. Storms, hardware failure and technical difficulties were plentiful. However there were multiple returns from the project, including tangible data as well as knowledge gained with hardware and software. These were huge wins for me that will benefit future projects by streamline the time it takes to implement those projects. The knowledge I get to carry forward really is the biggest result of this last project.

The knowledge gained from the project was not just that the temperature is 24.6 degrees cooler on the mountain than at my house but in building the systems to collect the data, the software built to analyze the data as well as a better understanding of the weather. I also had hardware outputs from the project that I can use in future projects. The building of the systems was also an endeavor in and of itself. I needed to be able to collect many data points for an extended period of time without the ability to plug it in while also being modular enough that I could pack it up in my backpack and hike it to remote locations and have it withstand the elements. The actual building of the hardware components was not a huge task because I had previous experience with micro-controllers and soldering so I was able to spin those up pretty quick. My weekly allowance for sensors held me back more than anything. The part that took me probably the most to hammer out was the power supply.

There were two parts to this, one: writing code that minimized the amount of power used by the micro-controller and sensors and two: Creating enough power to supply the station with adequate power as well as charge the batteries that would allow the station to run during the night when solar power wasn't available. This wouldn't really be a huge deal except for the size of the panels and for money. As I mentioned earlier I needed the station to be as small as possible so I could pack it in my backpack as well as being inconspicuous so people would leave it alone. I am also funding all this on my own dime so I am going as cheap as possible because it cuts into my soda fund. After much testing I was able to reduce the power consumption considerably and create a power supply unit that was small and reasonably priced for a backyard hacker.

This left me with the last piece which was to weather proof the unit so it could withstand fairly intense weather. This took some effort and testing as well as a few failed attempted deployments on the mountain. However finally I was able to get the two stations to run in parallel long enough to collect data and mark the project a success.

(my bed out in Cedar Basin)

For my next project I will be adding a few new components into the monitoring system but I am also shifting the focus of the data I am going to gather. One of the best parts about getting out and about is seeing wildlife. I love when you’re cruising up the mountain and you jump a few deer up and get to watch them bound up the steep mountain slope. I love when you’re out in the hills and you catch a glimpse of a coyote sleeking across the hills and valleys. I enjoy watching the Jack Rabbit bounce between the cactus and sage or the Gamble Quail scurry across the hill side in the waning afternoon sun. The focus of my next project will be to gather data about wildlife and their habits, potential habitat areas and the interactions between the wildlife in the shared ecosystem.

One of the new pieces of hardware that I ordered last night was a camera that interfaces with the Arduino micro-controller system that I use. I also have a motion detecting sensor so I will wire these two pieces onto the system so I can take a picture when there is movement. I also have built a wind monitor so I can try to better detect if the motion is the bushed blowing in the wind or an actual animal moving within the field of view of the camera.

With these additions to the system I hope to be able to capture some good pictures of different wildlife out in the Gold Butte region. I am essentially building a trail cam but I will also have all my other sensors hooked into the system so I will be able to measure temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed, light, date and time and soil moisture. I hope with all of this data that I can start to get a better understanding of particular animal behaviors and start to find trends and habits.

The animals that I am going to focus on are Gamble Quail, Jack Rabbits, Coyotes, Mule Deer and Mountain Lion. While I am waiting for me new hardware pieces to arrive I have begun the process to define the area where I will set up my monitoring station. I started first by downloading all of the Spring GIS data for the Gold Butte region. I then went to the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) website and downloaded their Mule Deer habitat GIS data. I then overlaid the landform dataset which gives classifications of slope as well as a vegetation dataset. With data I began the process of finding the most suitable areas where wildlife would potentially be found.

After analyzing the data I have identified the area to where I think I will have the best probability to capture data on the animals I outlined previously. After I get all of my hardware assembled and tested I will deploy my new station near Gold Butte headquarters.

There are many different types of analysis that I will be able to perform with the data that I hope to collect. One dataset that I will hope to be able to extrapolate will be species population counts. If I monitor different springs and get good counts of Quail that come and go throughout the morning and evening hours and these counts are roughly the same I will be able to estimate how many birds reside within a given area. I will also have to take into account the terrain and vegetation but I have this data and will be able to create a fairly sophisticated model to estimate this data. If I can get counts of deer and know their normal patters for watering and know their preference for feeding based on available forage I can start to understand where they will most likely to be found and when and under what weather conditions. If I can predict where quail and Jack Rabbits will be then I can start to paint a better picture of where and how many coyotes reside within a certain region. I also hope to be able to capture pictures of a mountain lion out in the Gold Butte region. I have never seen one personally but know people who have and I would like to see if I can get a picture of one and hopefully multiple pictures at different springs so I can start to understand mountain lion habits as well.

This is going to be an ongoing and long term project. Just getting the new hardware pieces integrated into my existing system and tested and weather proofed is going to take some time. My current knowledge and understanding of these animals is quite simple at this time. To help me kind of get a leg up on it all and up to speed I have enlisted the help of a master woodsman and animal tracker, and longtime friend, Kyle Leavitt. He has already donated some time in getting me up to speed on how to track and monitor mountain lions and mule deer. He also has a firm grasp of how to utilize scents to attract these animals and will help me to increase the odds of getting my first data points with my monitoring system. I will post updates as I move along on this project.

This is a time lapse of the Logandale Trailhead with a picture taken every ten minutes between 9 AM - 5PM. The Camera used was an AdaFruit TTL camera that was run from my Arduino which was powered by solar. The video isn't that great but it was a big accomplishment getting the system to run so here it is.