Northern pine snakes in New Jersey are getting by with a little help from their friends: a collaborative team of Air Force Officials and researchers at Temple and Drexel University equipped with ground-penetrating radar.
For 10 years, the officials at the Warren Grove Gunnery Range and researchers at the two universities have been working together to preserve the habitat of the northern pine snake. The International Union for conservation of nature listed the snake as a threatened species, and the population has to be closely monitored and nurtured to keep from dying out.The collaboration allows the Air Force to sustain ecosystems and biodiversity while carrying on their training and testing activities. Military ranges are common refuges for wildlife, and the endangerment of a species on military land can result in restrictions for the base. Their preservation work with the researchers has allowed them to continue their own work with very few land restrictions.
It also allows university students a chance for hands-on research and interdisciplinary training. The interdisciplinary research actually benefits the universities as well, making the departments more competitive when applying for funding.
In 2013, researchers had the bright idea to begin using ground-penetrating radar technology to map the snake population’s winter hibernation habitats.
“Ground Penetrating Radar can be used for a-lot of different applications and allows you to see alot of different anomalies such as voids, tree roots, as well as underground utilities.” States Stan Wood Jr of Woods Inspection Services.
GPR uses electromagnetic waves to create high-resolution imagery of the landscape several feet below the Earth’s surface. While GPR is traditionally used in prospecting, mining and archeology, the researchers protecting the snakes saw the technology as a huge opportunity.Before the use of GPR, researchers had to physically surround hibernation habitats and keep track of the individual snakes in each area to help them manage the population. The efforts were costly and time intensive. In addition, disturbing the snakes in their hibernation areas forces them to hibernate elsewhere in later years, adding extra work for the snakes and their monitors.
Ground-penetrating radar allowed the researchers to quantify snakes within their hibernation zones without disturbing them, allowing the species to thrive and saving the researchers time and money. The electromagnetic waves travel at roughly the same speed as radio waves and have no negative affects on the hibernating northern pine snakes.
Hopefully, the use of ground-penetrating radar and the continued efforts of the Air Force and research team, the northern pine snake will live comfortably on the military range for years to come.