07 March 2012

Protecting Your IRR from Spiders

When making measurements and carrying out experiments, scientists tend to spend a great deal of time and care in selecting the right instruments, calculating uncertainty, and making sure conditions are acceptable. One of the last things on the minds of most people (and rightfully so) is that a pest, like a spider, could find a way to sabotage an experiment or measurement campaign. As spring approaches, many pests (including our 8-legged friends) will awaken in full force, ready to cause havoc. Don’t worry; they aren’t really out to get you! Spiders and other insects sometimes just see the aperture of an infrared radiometer (IRR) as their new comfortable home. There are some simple steps to prevent IRRs from looking like the photo below.

Spider webs can cause inaccurate readouts.

Important Steps to preventing sabotage by pests 

1. Check on your sensor often.
2. Sensor Placement.
3. Repellant.

How “often” depends on a couple of factors such as: what the sensor is measuring, whether it is outdoors or indoors, where the sensor is located, etc. For example, if you had an IRR sensor making measurements outdoors and in close proximity to thick shrubbery (spider magnet), you might want to reconsider the location of the IRR. If the location cannot be changed, I would recommend checking on it at least weekly. If your sensor is located high on a weather station, which you only visit once a month, it can be helpful to monitor and compare measurements from day to day if the data acquisition system allows. If you suspect something is wrong with readings, check the IRR next time you go out for a visit. Better safe than sorry.

Choosing and applying a repellant can be a little tricky. Some commercial repellants can be harmful to humans, due to their potency. They can also be corrosive, which can be detrimental to the longevity of an IRR. Another option is to use essential oils such as lavender, lime, lemon, orange, tea tree, etc., which naturally deter spiders and other pests while being non-toxic to humans. Whichever repellant you select, take all the safety precautions recommended on the container. To apply the repellent, use a cotton swab and carefully rub the repellant on the wall threads of the IRR aperture without touching the sensor window, as this can cause a change in readings. You may need to reapply the repellant occasionally.

If you are already having problems with other pests, like wasps, or anticipate it this spring, I recommend reading Seth Humphries’ blog from last month titled: “Minimizing problems with wasps on weather stations. 

In the event you have an unwelcome visitor in an IRR, carefully brush it away with a cloth and carefully clean out any remaining spider webs with a wet cotton swab. While I don’t recommend keeping spiders as pets (unless you’re in Cambodia where cooked tarantula is a delicacy), I do recommend keeping them off your sensors, especially out of the aperture of an IRR.

Adam Del Toro

Mechanical Engineering Intern

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