Driving Innovation to Solve Real-World Problems

Published: May 04 2018

A joint development initiative of NASA, USAID, premier U.S. research institutions and leading technical organizations around the world, SERVIR improves capacity to create and utilize innovative tools, products and services to better manage today’s complex development and environment challenges.

 Image looking upwards towards treetops
Forest in Vietnam -- Image credit: Pham Ngoc Hai  

Since 2005, SERVIR has grown into a global network of four active hubs* that are improving awareness, increasing access to information and supporting analysis using information provided by Earth-observing satellites and geospatial technologies.

But how exactly does SERVIR connect space to village? The following three examples highlight some of the cutting-edge tools that support SERVIR’s work on land cover, agriculture and flood forecasting.

Land Cover: Analyzing Satellite Imagery

The forests of Vietnam support the livelihoods of up to 30 million rural people. The loss of this critical ecosystem through deforestation not only has serious effects on biodiversity, but also threatens the well-being of those millions of inhabitants.

To aid the Vietnamese government in forest conservation and monitoring, SERVIR-Mekong at the Asia Disaster Preparedness Center recently partnered with the Vietnam Forest Inventory and Planning Institute (FIPI) to train its staff on the use of open software for monitoring and managing Vietnam’s forests.

Traditional forest cover mapping and collection of ground data are time consuming and expensive activities. Interpreting satellite imagery requires advanced technical capacity. This training taught participants how to access and analyze an immense catalogue of satellite data and geographic information system datasets.

Use of this approach has improved communications between the national- and local-level forest personnel. Together they are now able to better track, manage and grow Vietnam’s forests. “I am happy to work with SERVIR-Mekong,” said Pham Ngoc Hai, a FIPI employee. “Trainings such as this have allowed me to have new visions to produce fast and quality mapping for my work and research.”

Agriculture: Evaporative Stress Index

Millions of people in the developing world depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. However, uncertainties in weather patterns and water availability pose a serious challenge to reliable crop production.

The newly released Evaporative Stress Index (ESI) – a global dataset developed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and a service available on the SERVIR website - identifies regions susceptible to drought where vegetation is stressed due to lack of water, enabling agriculture ministries to provide actionable irrigation advice to farmers. ESI is groundbreaking in that it can monitor soil moisture across the landscape without using observed rainfall data. This is critical in developing regions and other parts of the world that lack sufficient ground-based rainfall observations.

 Evaporative Stress Index screenshot
Evaporative Stress Index  

Available online and produced weekly at a 5-kilometer resolution for the entire globe, this product can capture early signals of “flash drought,” a condition brought on by extended periods of hot, dry, and windy conditions leading to rapid soil moisture depletion. Increased rates of water loss can be detected using land surface temperatures before they can be observed through decreases in vegetation health or “greenness.”

Scientists in the United States have been experimenting with this dataset for more than a year in support of agricultural ministries around the world, and it has already shown its value. “We have integrated the global ESI product into our monthly evaluations of crop conditions for our crop monitor bulletins,” says Brian Barker, an agricultural scientist from the University of Maryland. “As a way of detecting early signs of plant stress due to reductions in soil moisture, we have found that the global ESI product is an invaluable resource appropriate for timely, in-season agriculture monitoring.”

There has already been significant demand for this new dataset, which has been downloaded more than 18,000 times since it became available on the SERVIR Global website in early March.

SERVIR hubs are currently identifying ways to incorporate this dataset into applications to address regional food security challenges.

Flood Forecasting: SERVIR Flood Map Tool

Like many rivers across the world, the Nzoia River in western Kenya overtops its banks with seasonal flooding. The river often bursts through dikes, flooding the low-lying land around it.

 Photo along banks of Nzoia River
Nzoia River in Western Kenya
Image Credit: RCMRD  

To protect lives and property in this region, SERVIR-Eastern and Southern Africa at the Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development used the SERVIR Flood Map Tool to provide high-accuracy flood level scenario maps to the World Bank to guide their flood protection dike repairs as part of their Water Security and Climate Resilience Project, helping vulnerable populations better withstand future flooding. This tool incorporates high resolution elevation data from both NASA and commercial satellites to create a rating curve that shows the relationship between stream flow and water elevation above the streambed.

“We used the (SERVIR) maps for watershed modeling to help guide repair and construction of the flood prevention dikes,” says Peter Muiruri, World Bank project manager. The final design of the dike reconstruction was completed in June 2017.

These three examples highlight a few of the many geospatial services that SERVIR deploys to help people in developing countries adapt to a changing environment. With new services in development, innovative partnerships, cutting-edge science and an expanding network of hubs, SERVIR looks forward to increasing the use of Earth observing data as it continues to connect space to village.

Devrin Weiss is the Communications 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.

Note:

*SERVIR Hubs are leading, regional learning centers dedicated to building resilience through the integration of Earth observations and geospatial technologies. The network of SERVIR hubs includes Eastern and Southern Africa, West Africa, the Hindu Kush Himalaya and the Lower Mekong.

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