Landsat’s Critical 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.
Using data from Landsat and Sentinel-2, UNESCO is providing freshwater quality information at the global scale.
High levels of residential abandonment and unchecked vegetation growth in low-income neighborhoods are strong indicators of mosquito prevalence. Higher income neighborhoods are also susceptible to mosquito-borne disease due to the presence of irrigated vegetation, which creates mosquito-friendly habitat.
With the growing frequency and magnitude of toxic freshwater algal blooms becoming an increasingly worrisome public health concern, Carnegie scientists Jeff Ho and Anna Michalak, along with colleagues, have made new advances in understanding the drivers behind Lake Erie blooms and their implications for lake restoration.
We recently spoke with veterinary epidemiologist Todd Kelman from the University of Davis, California about his avian flu research. Todd has incorporated Landsat data into his research and we wanted to know more.
When a Los Angeles water treatment plant had to discharge treated water closer to shore than usual in the fall of 2015 due to repair work, NASA satellite observations helped scientists from the City of Los Angeles and local research institutions monitor the Santa Monica Bay for any impacts. For the city, it was an opportunity to assess the use of satellites in guiding a substantial monitoring effort. For NASA, it was an opportunity to refine the use of satellite assets to study a coastal environment.