Satellites during the Cold war followed by nuclear missiles… and squirrels

Scientists from the USGS are thanked for declassified military topographic images of the territory of the Soviet Union a half-century range. Spy satellites of that time diligently searching for missile silos, which repeatedly photographed the vast areas of terrain with high precision. Now, these data are an invaluable basis for conclusions about the development of populations of gophers marmots in Kazakhstan in the second half of the last century.

It is not known as with missiles, but the burrows of ground squirrels, scientists have found a huge amount. Black and white photographs from space only in the Northern part of Kazakhstan, they counted more than 5,000 holes. And many of them were family, experts believe that they lived at least eight generations of rodents. This is a very important factor, because squirrels do not spend energy on maintenance in proper condition of emergency burrows.

Today, the number of burrows of ground squirrels in this region is 14% less than in the 60-ies of the last century, and in meadow areas that are plowed under the crops of wheat, the population of these animals decreased by 60 %. Satellite images have illustrated the process of this struggle, when the gophers under the pressure of human needs to rebuild the hole and walked away. Since the process of transformation of the steppes into the fields were extended in time, the scientists were able to study in detail the confrontation between the gophers and people. And this is a very atypical example of how military technology helped peace science, even half a century later.

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