Human Health & Environmental Justice

Landsat’s Role in Protecting Human Health

People have long recognized the connection between the environment and human health. Various animal and insect species from mice to mosquitoes serve as vectors that can transmit disease pathogens to people. Malaria is among the most deadly, preventable vector-borne diseases. About half of the world’s population (3.3 billion people) is at risk of contracting malaria from mosquitoes, according to the World Health Organization. Other human health problems such as cancer arise from exposure to pollutants in the environment. Finally, malnutrition can follow crop-destroying natural disasters such as drought or floods in poor regions. Landsat measurements can help decision makers pinpoint and minimize environmental health risks. With a spatial resolution of 30 meters, Landsat is well suited to mapping various components of changing landscapes, including agriculture and urbanization, that might pollute waterways. This level of detail can also show where water has accumulated in depressions to become breeding grounds for disease-carrying insect vectors. Landsat measures reflected light in both visible wavelengths and infrared wavelengths. This combination of measurements helps scientists gauge how healthy vegetation is, since growing plants generally absorb red light and reflect infrared light. Knowing the health of plants informs decision makers about cropland productivity and habitat conditions for disease-carrying insects and animals.