Cold War satellites tracked nuclear missiles ... and gophers

Scientists from the US Geological Survey expressed their gratitude to the military for the declassified topographic photographs of the territory of the USSR of half a century. Spy satellites of that time diligently searched for missile silos, for which they repeatedly photographed vast areas of the terrain with high accuracy. Now these data have become an invaluable basis for conclusions about the development of the population of bobak gophers in Kazakhstan in the second half of the last century.

It is not known how with rockets, but scientists have found a huge number of gopher holes. In black-and-white images from space, only in the northern part of Kazakhstan, they counted more than 5, 000 burrows. And many of them were family, experts are sure that at least eight generations of rodents lived in them. This is a very important factor, because gophers do not waste energy on maintaining emergency burrows in proper condition.

Today the number of gopher burrows in this region is 14% less than in the 60s. last century, and in the meadow areas, which were plowed for sowing wheat, the population of these animals decreased by 60%. Satellite images illustrated the process of struggle, when gophers, under the onslaught of a person, stopped restoring destroyed burrows and went away. Since the process of transformation of the steppes into fields was stretched over time, scientists managed to study in detail the confrontation between gophers and people. This is a very atypical example of how military technology has helped peaceful science, even after half a century.