The NASA-funded project focuses primarily on Peru, which reported roughly 65,000 cases of malaria in 2014. (While 90 percent of all malaria cases in the Western Hemisphere occur in the Amazon, distribution isn’t uniform; infections in Brazil are decreasing, while those in Peru are on the rise.) The key to the project is using satellite data to pinpoint where prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes overlap with human populations and traffic patterns.
“A key input for us is precipitation,” says Ben Zaitchik, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “We also look at vegetation status, and things like deforestation patterns.” All of the information is loaded into NASA’s Land Data Assimilation System, which integrates the data and provides information on soil moisture levels or the probability that puddles have formed underneath the vegetation canopy, creating prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
The scientists also collect human data, including weekly malaria case counts. “We’re trying to model where lots of human movement is occurring,” says William Pan, an assistant professor of global environmental health at Duke University, and the project lead. “We look at logging areas, places where gold mining goes on, sites where we know that people might come in and out of repeatedly.”