For years, scientists couldn't explain why so many animals avoided the areas around giant towers of power lines. In 2014, after examining the results of a study of reindeer in Norway, researchers determined that reindeer -- and about 35 other species that are sensitive to ultraviolet radiation -- see power lines as glowing, flashing bursts of light that frighten them. High-voltage power lines generate the UV light because of a build-up of ionized gas, known as a corona discharge. When the gas dissipates, flashes of light are emitted. And the higher the build-up, the larger the flashes.
The flash that makes them flee:
- The problem is larger than the fact that glowing power lines are unsettling to animals. Biologists think these flashes (not visible to humans) may actually cause animal communities to fragment.
- Power companies try to reduce build-ups, which actually indicate an inefficiency in the line that signifies lost power. Inspectors wear special goggles to find problem areas, and repair them.
- According to researcher Nicolas Tyler, an ecologist at the Arctic University of Norway, “fragmentation of habitat by infrastructure is the principle global threat to biodiversity. It is absolutely major.”