It was just a couple of summers ago that America’s collective conscience was introduced to the reality of the dreaded Zika virus. A couple of years later, scientists across the world are looking for ways to prevent Zika outbreaks before they happen. At one university in Texas, remote sensing technology appears to be the answer.
Researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine are currently working on ways to use remote sensing to better understand the habits of different types of mosquitoes. It’s hoped that remote sensing can eventually be fine-tuned to help scientists locate potential pockets of mosquitoes that could spread Zika. They hope to also be able to identify geographic features that would help mosquitoes reproduce more quickly, so that preventative action can be taken against the insects.
The term ‘remote sensing’ is a fairly broad term that encompasses a lot of different technologies. For the purposes of understanding and hunting down mosquitoes, remote sensing is a process of using high resolution satellite photographs to identify certain features on the ground. Those photographs are run through a series of signal processing algorithms that remove noise and pinpoint the desired data.
Rock West Solutions, a California tech company that specializes in remote sensing and signal processing, says that the technologies now being used by Baylor have come a long way in recent years. Remote sensing is accurate enough to be able to identify items as small as tires and birdbaths using satellite images taken from space.
What makes remote sensing so accurate is its multi-band imaging capabilities. In other words, images are captured using both visible light and infrared bands. Applying multiple bands of the light spectrum allows for much greater detail than standard photographs utilizing only visible light.
Applying remote sensing to fighting the Zika virus is all about learning as much as possible about the mosquitoes that carry it. Breeding is a big part of what Baylor researchers are focusing on. As you may already know, mosquitoes breed in the water. But it is not just water they need. They also need adequate vegetation as well. The challenge is to try to figure out how mosquitoes actually choose their breeding grounds.
Researchers are hoping to be able to use remote sensing to differentiate between bodies of water friendly to mosquito reproduction as opposed to those that are not as friendly. If they can figure out where mosquitoes are more likely to breed, they can concentrate eradication efforts on those areas.
Testing is also a big concern. Health officials are not necessarily interested in wiping out every mosquito on the planet. After all, mosquitoes do provide some benefits to their respective ecosystems. That’s why local officials in Texas capture and test mosquitoes before deciding what to do about them. Remote sensing could improve those efforts by helping researchers locate large pockets of mosquitoes that haven’t yet been tested.
What researchers at Baylor University are doing offers yet another example of how technology is making life better around the world. Twenty years ago, we did not even know Zika existed. Now we not only know that it is here, but we also have a real possibility of eliminating Zika outbreaks by stopping the virus in its tracks.
Remote sensing could end up being Zika’s biggest enemy. Let’s hope the Baylor researchers accomplish their goals before next summer’s mosquito season sets in. If they do, there’s a very real possibility that we won’t see any Zika stories in the news. Wouldn’t that be awesome?