Strengthening Resilient Development Through U.S. Research Collaborations

Published: May 03 2018

Addressing today’s complex environmental and development challenges cannot be solved by one institution alone. Since its launch in 2005, SERVIR has cultivated a global network of research collaborations linking U.S.-based institutions and technology companies with four regional SERVIR hubs.

 Photo of Catherine Nakalembe and Village Knowledge Extension Agent working with an electronic tablet
SERVIR Applied Sciences Team member Catherine Nakalembe
(right) instructs a Village Knowledge Extension Agent in
electronic field data collection in Iringa, Tanzania.
Credit: Christina Justice (University of Maryland, College Park)  

Currently, SERVIR works with 19 U.S-based universities and research centers located across 14 states and the District of Columbia, as well as five U.S.-based technology companies located in three states, helping these researchers and international partners come together to deliver science for sustainability.

Can efficient and repeatable methods for monitoring land cover change be developed across diverse geographies? Can satellite rainfall data help to accurately predict flooding? Can crop yields be accurately estimated using satellite-based measurements? Cutting-edge research on Earth science challenges such as these is being carried out by U.S.-based research institutions using innovative methods for monitoring forest and land cover change, and by applying new satellite datasets to flood and drought monitoring.

Creating valid scientific methods that can be replicated around the world requires local collaboration and validation, and SERVIR creates those bridges through a network of international research partnerships. U.S.-based technology companies are innovating to meet the ever-growing needs of scientific modeling and satellite data analysis by providing solutions, such as cloud computing, that make the most efficient use of information technologies. SERVIR creates connections to those companies with its network of regional partners and collaborative researchers.

SERVIR Global recognizes the potential for international scientific collaboration to generate innovative solutions to local, national and regional challenges. SERVIR’s Applied Sciences Team brings cutting-edge science and creative collaborations to meet the needs of SERVIR’s hubs and decision-makers in developing countries. The Applied Sciences Team pairs leading scientists in the U.S. with experts at SERVIR hubs in Eastern and Southern Africa, West Africa, the Hindu Kush Himalaya, and the Lower Mekong. Together, these teams work on projects and applications to advance the use of satellite data observations. The results are designed to inform policy and decision-makers as they manage environmental and development risks and plan for a sustainable future.

The U.S.-based researchers depend on international collaborations to access local data to validate their models and analysis, and to gain critical hub insights into development challenges that have been informed by stakeholder consultations and their knowledge of regional contexts. SERVIR hubs depend on these innovative models that use satellite data to help fill data gaps in their countries. By making connections with U.S.-based research institutions and companies, SERVIR hubs can turn these capabilities into information and cost-effective services that truly meet the needs of decision-makers and advance resilience.

Research Institutions Collaborating with SERVIR Across the United States.
Source: SERVIR Global - A Retrospective Report: 2014 - 2018

SERVIR’s Applied Science Team started with a cohort of 11 collaborative projects in 2011 and a new team of 16 projects was selected in 2016*. The projects’ principal investigators hail from universities or research institutes from 9 states. The collaborations advance monitoring or predictive capabilities in one or more of SERVIR’s service areas: agriculture and food security; land cover; water and disasters; weather and climate. For example:

  • The U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station in Utah is working with SERVIR-Eastern and Southern Africa to use cloud computing and the Landsat archive to deliver land cover maps of Kenya, Malawi, Ethiopia, Zambia, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda. The maps are designed to support governments and civil society organizations as they monitor the impacts of human activities on forest and water resources.
  • The University of Houston in Texas is collaborating with SERVIR-Mekong to develop a satellite data-based system to monitor seasonal floods and droughts in low-lying deltas of Southeast Asia.
  • A complete list of past and current Applied Science Team projects can be found here.

As SERVIR looks to expand its network with the expected launch of an Amazonia hub in 2018, U.S.-based researchers and technology companies will continue to play a key role in the network’s success by developing cutting-edge research and introducing new technologies that streamline scientific modelling and satellite data analysis. This unique collaboration between U.S.-based partners and the SERVIR hubs has strengthened the research capabilities of the SERVIR network and serves as a successful model in how joint-research can be harnessed for resilient development.

Katherine Casey is the Knowledge Management Lead for the SERVIR Support Team. This blog was originally featured on Climatelinks, a global knowledge portal for USAID staff, implementing partners, and the broader community working at the intersection of climate change and international development. Click here to go to the original blog post.


SERVIR is a joint development initiative of NASA, USAID, premier U.S. research institutions and leading technical organizations around the world. As a network of partners, SERVIR builds capacity in the use of satellite data to empower decision makers to better address critical issues related to food security, water resources, natural disasters, land use, weather and climate.

*The next round of Applied Science Team projects is currently underway. Awardees will be selected through the NASA Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Science (ROSES 2018) omnibus solicitation. The two-step proposal process begins with the Step-1 proposals, due by October 25, 2018. For more details about the solicitation, priority topics, and proposal submission requirements, please visit the SERVIR Applied Sciences Team announcement on the NASA NSPIRES website.



Related Articles