Satellite telemetry

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Platform Transmitting Terminals (PTT)

American oystercatcher with satellite tag

PTTs are transmitters that send user-defined periodic messages to the Argos system, a global satellite-based location and data collection system dedicated to studying and protecting our planet’s environment. The polar-orbiting satellites making up Argos fly at an orbit of 850 km above the earth. They pick up the signals, store them on-board, and relay them in real-time back to earth. Receiving stations then relay data from satellites to processing centers. These processing centers collect all incoming data, process them and distribute them to users.

The Argos system calculates locations by measuring the Doppler Effect on transmission frequency (401.650 MHz ± 30 kHz). The Doppler Effect is the change in frequency of a sound wave or electromagnetic wave that occurs when the source of vibration and observer are moving relative to each other. Argos users receive data directly in their office or on-site, depending on their choice (email, fax, web, cd-rom, or directly on mapping software).

Global Positioning System (GPS) Data Loggers

The Global Positioning System is a freely accessible global navigation satellite system, maintained by the United States government, which is used to provide location and time information in all weather anywhere on earth. So long as a GPS receiver has unobstructed line-of-sight to four or more GPS satellites, it can use the information (time of transmission, precise orbital information of the satellite, and general system health/rough orbits of all GPS satellites) transmitted in order to calculate accurate time and location.

GPS data loggers do not maintain continuous location data, but instead calculate location at user-defined intervals, leaving a “breadcrumb” view of the path taken by the logger. In order to access this data, the animal carrying the GPS logger must be recaptured and the data downloaded, usually from an internal memory drive similar to a USB drive.

GPS/PTT Transmitters

GPS/PTT transmitters, also known as “data pushers,” use the GPS or PTT system in order to determine location, then “push” (send) this data to a determined server at certain intervals. GPS/PTT transmitters are very useful because it is unnecessary to re-capture the animal in order to collect data. However, they are heavier that GPS data loggers, and thus cannot be used on smaller animals (such as songbirds). While GPS/PTT transmitters are usually used to track the location of an animal, when vaginally implanted in a pregnant animal they can be used to determine the site at which the animal gives birth.

Edited by: Matthew Johnson, USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center,


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HOME | satellite telemetry | geolocators | radio telemetry | individual marking | molecular markers

stable isotopes | movement models | future methods