US: Using state-of-the-art NASA satellite information, about a dozen students from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama, are busy checking state forests for ticks that may carry Lyme disease. The students, participating in a NASA programme called DEVELOP, have spent three school terms looking at habitats favourable for the proliferation of the blood-sucking arachnids.
During the summer of 2009 through spring 2010 sessions, students chose to work with NASA’s satellite-based, remote-sensing technology and geographic information systems software to focus on research into Lyme disease. The disease can become a serious, chronic illness in humans when undiagnosed and untreated.
NASA’s Advanced Space borne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) sensor was utilised along with the USGS-partnered Landsat, and digital Globe’s Quickbird satellite. Students used the satellite imagery to analyse soil moisture and vegetation at 12 locations in the Talladega National Forest in north-central Alabama, creating detailed digital maps and images showing conditions on the ground that could support habitats for carriers of Lyme disease: blacklegged ticks (deer ticks). Important hosts for these ticks include: white-tailed deer and the white-footed mouse. Results of their satellite imagery analysis showed areas of dense vegetation overlapped with high soil moisture — likely tick habitats.
DEVELOP is a mentorship and training programme sponsored by the Applied Sciences Program in NASA’s Earth Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The students deliver research results, measurements and predictions that address local policy and environmental concerns and develop professional-caliber products to aid community leaders and local and state governments with decision-making.
The DEVELOP program, led by NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., is active at five NASA facilities: Marshall Space Flight Center; Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.; Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss.; and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Internship opportunities with the program are available during the spring, summer and fall. High school, undergraduate and graduate students with strong interests in science, technology and government policymaking are encouraged to apply.