Cryosat-2 and malaria

The European Space Agency ‘Cryosat-2’ ice observation satellite launched successfully today.

Its primary mission is to measure polar ice, but it also does water. Jonathan Amos describes an interesting sideline— in brief:

1. The satellite’s polar orbit takes in longitudinal slices of the rest of the planet, too— including some malarial areas (the article refers to Africa; though going by the ESA map it looks like the West Africa global malaria hotspot gets missed out).

2. When pointed at land, the reflectivity of Cryosat’s radar signal provides an estimate of the amount of water in the field of view.

3. Standing water = mosquito breeding grounds ≈ malaria (skimping over minor details such as locality, temperature, precipitation, vectorial capacity etc etc).

4. This will be a ‘proof of concept’ effort to see if, in principle, satellite remote sensing data can be used to help predict (and therefore manage) malaria outbreaks. The Sentinel-3 satellite, due for launch in 2013, will have a more suitable orbit for practical malaria mapping, assuming this research works out.

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