Measuring heat - Education Matters Magazine

Measuring heat

FLIR’s thermal imaging cameras are a great way to teach students about the fundamentals of physics, by measuring heat, which is everywhere in our daily lives. The business offers insight into how its technology is being used out in the real world.

Allowing students to learn about thermal concepts in an interactive and engaging way, FLIR’s thermal cameras offer exciting opportunities for learning in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). Rather than just reading about friction, insulation and heat, students can see how it actually works.

In just one real world application, FLIR cameras are helping researchers to study the behaviour of bats living in the world’s largest underground river cave system. The Italian- Philippine team are using the technology to study bats in the Puerto Princesa Underground River cave system in the Philippines. Researchers are hoping the FLIR technology will give them more insight into the size and identity of the bat colony, and that this knowledge will help them preserve the species for many years to come.

The pristine natural beauty and distinctive wildlife of the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park has captured the attention of eco- tourists, who can travel through the massive cave by boat and see hundreds of bats, giant monitor lizards, monkeys, pythons, sea snakes and other wildlife.

Preserving biodiversity
Unfortunately, increased tourism often has an impact on the environment. Fully aware of this danger, a program called Support for Sustainable Eco-Tourism in the Puerto Princesa Underground River Area was initiated through a collaborative Philippine/Italian effort. This program is aimed at the study of the fauna in the cave and ultimately has the intention to be better prepared for sustainable tourism and the preservation of the site’s biodiversity.

Dr Paolo Agnelli, an Italian zoologist, is one of the members of the research team. He has already carried out several faunistic research studies and zoological collections, especially of amphibians, reptiles and mammals, all over the world.
As a specialist in the field of small mammal ecology, Dr Agnelli’s main goal is to identify the bats present in the caves, in order to exactly define the bat species and to have a correct estimate of their numbers.

Counting bats
Dr Agnelli reveals the exact number of bats in a colony is difficult to determine. “And yet, this information can be very valuable because it helps us to see population trends through the course of the years. Should we be able to assess that the number of bats is decreasing, then we should be investigating the disturbing factors and take action in order to preserve these species,” he says.

In the multiple research missions he has already been part of, Dr Agnelli has made use of thermal imaging technology to help overcome the practical difficulties typically encountered in bat studies.

Bat detection technologies
Today, a wide array of techniques and technologies are being used to study the behaviour of bats, ranging from actively searching buildings, trees and subterranean cavities, to capturing bats with mist nets, and monitoring by means of ultrasound bat detectors, which convert the echolocation ultrasound signals of bats to audible frequencies. With thermal imaging, another important technology has been added to the professional bat researcher’s toolbox.

“I have been using thermal imaging cameras for already three years now to study the hibernation behaviour of bats in caves, especially for their deep hibernation conditions. Since 2016, I have also been using this technology to count bats while coming out of their caves,” Dr Agnelli explains.

Thermal imaging cameras make it possible to monitor bats by their thermal signature. Bats are nocturnal animals and usually leave their daytime roosts at dusk, an ideal moment to capture the bats on video while in action. As thermal cameras see heat, not light, they also allow researchers to study bats at night, at a time when they are most active. Thanks to its visual nature, thermal imaging technology can also be combined with smart software that is able to count and identify bats and perform intelligent motion tracking.

Robust thermal imager
“For the several missions to the Puerto Pricesa Underground River, I was looking for a thermal camera that is robust and able to withstand the humid conditions that are typical of underground caves,” says Dr Agnelli. “After thorough evaluation of several brands, FLIR offered the best technical characteristics and the highest reliability.”

Dr Agnelli ultimately chose the FLIR E60bx thermal imaging camera, a 320×240 resolution point-and-shoot model with a fully integrated colour camera. “The FLIR E60bx is very easy to use, it’s economical and the 60 Hz frame rate allows us to present the small-sized bats in motion in very good definition.

“The long-life battery of the FLIR E60bx, the light and compact size, and the possibility to add extra lenses – it’s the total package that makes it a very attractive camera, especially for the specific tasks that I was designated with during my research missions.”

Raising awareness
During the first research mission in Palawan in November and December 2016, Dr Agnelli says the camera served the research team very well. “At the cave exit, we had to identify the best viewing point, so it was possible to capture the entire evening flow of bats leaving the cave, considering every possible route. We also had to take into account so-called ‘light sampling behaviour’, where the bats repeatedly leave the roost and return immediately if the conditions are not suitable.”

Next to other established techniques, thermal imaging has proven to be another effective technology for the Puerto Princesa Underground River team in their study of bats living in the cave system.

Thermal imaging in the classroom
Featuring a thermal imaging camera and software, FLIR’s educational kits can be used for a range of practical exercises, allowing the collection of quantifiable data that can form the basis of further lessons and discussions. Some of the concepts that can be easily visualised with a thermal imaging camera include the thermal properties of materials and objects; heat conduction, convection and radiation; heat insulation; friction; energy transformation; and phase change.

FLIR’s educational kits also include access to education content including lesson plans, experiments, training videos and application notes.

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