The Story Behind the Satellite Picture
Journey North students helped scientists collect strong evidence that the monarch forest in Mexico needs stronger protection.

Ikonos imagery, copyright GeoEye, Inc. The current images were created by Lincoln Brower (Sweet Briar College), Dan Slayback (SSAI, Inc) and Isabel Ramirez (Universidad de Mexico, Morelia), and funded by the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation.

It was Saturday, February 16 and Dr. Lincoln Brower was in a hurry. The dry season in Mexico’s monarch colonies was coming to an end. Soon clouds would cover the skies and it would be too late.

“Let me know if you'd like to move forward,” his colleague Dan Slayback had said. “We should get it ordered ASAP to get a clear image while the dry season lasts!”

For just $2,800 a satellite could take the snapshot the scientists needed. They wanted a close view of one of the monarch's 12 wintering sites in Mexico, a site called Lomas de Aparicio. Dr. Brower, Dan Slayback and Mexican scientist Dr. Isabel Ramirez had discovered clear cutting of that forest when they compared satellite images taken in 2004 and 2006. Would a picture in 2008 reveal more logging?

“I think we could capture the whole area in a single image,” noted Dan. For $2,800 they could have a high quality satellite image of an area measuring 100 square kilometers.

So Dr. Brower was in a hurry that Saturday when he wrote to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation (MBSF) for help. “I would like to request $2,800 for a satellite image,” he said.

That’s how easy it was. MBSF approved the funds and the scientists placed their order. When the satellite passed over the monarch region on Saturday, February 23, the sky was crystal clear and the satellite snapped a startling picture. Back on Earth, the news spread around the globe. The image has been seen by millions of people around the world and is sure to be seen by the president of Mexico, the one person with the power to stop the illegal logging.

But there’s more to the story. The funds for the image came in large part from children who care about monarchs. Nearly half of MBSF’s annual income is from children who participate in Journey North's Symbolic Migration. This year, 613 classrooms donated $11,000. These students helped scientists collect the strongest evidence yet that the monarch forest in Mexico needs stronger protection. The picture that cost $2,800 is worth a thousand words.

  • Special thanks to these 613 classrooms who helped monarchs this way!
  • How to contribute to further research: You can support Dr. Brower's further satellite monitoring, GIS and microclimate research in collaboration with colleagues and students at UNAM-Mexico. Checks should be made out to "Monarch Fund, Sweet Briar College" and mailed to: Dr. Lincoln Brower, Sweet Briar College, Sweet Briar, Va 24595.