Satellite to Hunt Mosquitoes from Space


Image via Gizmodo

The Cryosat-2 is a satellite launched by the European Space Agency to study the state of polar ice with cutting edge tech. But what's to be done with such a satellite's advanced radar altimeter and data collection capabilities when it's not over the poles? You use it to hunt mosquitoes from space, of course.The satellite is designed to measure surface heights--according to the BBC, it "will record the rates of change in land and marine ice thickness very precisely."

But scientists will be putting the satellite's data gathering facilities to use even when its not measuring ice--check out the map below to see the zones it will be analyzing most intensely:

Obviously, the satellite will be studying ice thickness in zones 2 and 5 (around the Andes and the Himalayas), but as far as I know, there isn't a whole lot of ice in the Amazon and central Africa. And that's where the mosquito hunting comes in. The BBC explains: "I draw your attention though to Africa (4). Some of the data here will go into developing a tool that is about as far from ice-monitoring as you could imagine: a model to forecast the risk of malaria." Malaria kills some 800,000 people a year, 90% of those deaths are in Africa, and most of the victims are very young children.

So:

A group of Spanish scientists have been working on a project to use radar altimetry to detect the presence of mosquito breeding grounds - the puddles and ponds of water where the insects lay their eggs. Water is a strong reflector of the radar signal.

If this information is tied to other data-sets, such as temperature and precipitation, it might be possible to produce risk infection maps for great swathes of Africa. The authorities could then take pre-emptive measures, including targeted spraying of insecticides.

Essentially, the satellite will be hunting for, and analyzing mosquito breeding groups in order to more effectively combat them. The orbit of the Cryosat-2 isn't ideal for this, but if the technique works out, similar instruments could be applied to a satellite better suited for this distinct purpose.

Let the space-based mosquito hunt begin.

Tags: Africa | Diseases

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