SERVIR, a joint venture between NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington, provides state-of-the-art, satellite-based Earth monitoring, imaging and mapping data, geospatial information, predictive models and science applications to help improve environmental decision-making among developing nations in eastern and southern Africa, the Hindu-Kush region of the Himalayas and the lower Mekong River Basin in Southeast Asia. 1)
Developed in 2004 by researchers at NASA/MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center) in Huntsville, Alabama, and implemented through NASA partnerships with leading regional organizations around the globe, SERVIR — its name derived from a Spanish word meaning "to serve" — provides critical information and support services to help national, regional and local governments, forecasters, climatologists and other researchers track environmental changes, evaluate ecological threats and rapidly respond to and assess damage from natural disasters.
With activities in more than 30 countries and counting, the SERVIR team already has developed more than 40 custom tools, collaborated with more than 200 institutions and trained approximately 1,800 regional support staffers, developing local solutions and linking regional offices around the globe to create a thriving, interactive network. Web-based satellite imagery, decision-support tools and interactive visualization capabilities previous inaccessible across many these regions now enable stakeholders to work together to combat floods, wildfires, superstorms and other calamities, and also to address long-term environmental shifts tied to climate change, biodiversity, drought and other factors.
SERVIR was created as a collaborative effort by NASA, USAID, the World Bank in Washington and the Central American Commission on Environment and Development in Antiguo Cuscatl, El Salvador, with input from the Group on Earth Observations, an alliance of more than 80 nations and organizations collaborating to build a Global Earth Observing System of Systems to benefit society's needs.
The first regional hub, launched in 2005 in Panama City, Panama, served the Mesoamerican region and the Dominican Republic. Today, NASA, USAID and their partners operate SERVIR hubs in Kathmandu, Nepal, serving the Hindu-Kush region of the Himalayas; in Nairobi, Kenya, serving eastern and southern Africa; and in Bangkok, Thailand, serving the five countries of the Mekong River Basin in Southeast Asia.
Additional hubs are under consideration for other developing regions of the world.
SERVIR strengthens the ability of governments and other development stakeholders to incorporate Earth observations and geospatial technologies to respond to natural disasters, improved food security, safeguard human health, manage water and natural resources. Hubs in each region focus on issues and needs most critical to local populations. In the Himalayas, SERVIR uses Earth-observation information from satellites to detect forest fires, monitor land cover and land use change and assess water resources. In eastern and southern Africa, SERVIR provides valuable information to improve such activities as flood forecasting, monitoring the impact of frost on regional agriculture and assessing land cover and land use change. In the Mekong, SERVIR is focused on a host of issues vital to the region: disaster risk reduction and response; water and food security; landscape management to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and safe, sustainable development of the river basin.
SERVIR partners worldwide
Today, SERVIR is a global network of leading regional knowledge centers, including the Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD), the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) and other partners, all of them dedicated to environmental management through the integration of Earth observations and geospatial technologies.
The SERVIR program, jointly led by NASA and USAID, is operated by the Earth Science Division's Applied Sciences Program in NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Marshall Center is home to the SERVIR Coordination Office, and Marshall is supported on the program by four other NASA field centers: Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California; Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California; and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
SERVIR relies on other agencies for expertise in scientific research and international development. Partnerships within the U.S. government include the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service, the U.S. Forestry Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. Additional partners include the Kenya Meteorological Department and the United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response.
Figure 1: SERVIR is a global network of regional partners dedicated to environmental management through the integration of Earth observations and geospatial technologies (image credit: NASA SERVIR)
SERVIR Global — Connecting Space to Village
SERVIR is improving awareness, increasing access to information, and supporting analysis to help people in Africa, Hindu Kush-Himalaya, Lower Mekong, and Mesoamerica manage challenges in the areas of food security, water resources, land use change, and natural disasters. With activities in more than 45 countries and counting, SERVIR has already developed over 70 custom tools, collaborated with over 250 institutions, and trained more than 3000 individuals, improving the capacity to develop local solutions. 2)
SERVIR Global History
In 2005, SERVIR-Mesoamerica — first known as the Mesoamerican Regional Visualization & Monitoring System — was established with the Water Center for the Humid Tropics for Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC) in Panama City, Panama, through the joint effort of NASA, USAID, and other partners. Due to the breadth of SERVIR's applications at this hub, the Ministerial Declaration of the 2007 Earth Observation Summit recognized SERVIR as a model for the implementation of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). By late 2008, the SERVIR model, through the support of NASA and USAID, had been expanded to East Africa through partnership with the Kenya-based Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD). This hub is called SERVIR-Eastern and Southern Africa. SERVIR's global expansion continued in late 2010, when SERVIR-Himalaya was established at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu, Nepal. Global expansion extended to Asia's Lower Mekong region in 2014 with SERVIR-Mekong, implemented by the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) and consortium partners. In 2016, USAID and NASA announced the addition of SERVIR-West Africa, implemented by the Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) subsidiary, the Agrometeorology, Hydrology and Meteorology (AGRHYMET) Regional Center, and its consortium partners, with support from Tetra Tech, Inc. SERVIR-Mesoamerica operated until 2011. The other four hubs are still active, and additional hubs, including a hub in South America, are planned for the future.
SERVIR: Our Approach
SERVIR's approach to designing geospatial information services is embodied in the SERVIR Service Planning Toolkit. The approach emphasizes user-focused services. The toolkit helps researchers engage a broad range of stakeholders to design information services that are integrated into decision processes and lead to positive development outcomes.
The toolkit includes guidance for identifying a development problem, analyzing opportunities for linking decision-making to satellite data analysis, and delivering a service - all through collaborative and results-oriented processes. The SERVIR Service Planning Toolkit is a living document that evolves as the program gains hands-on experience applying the tools. The Toolkit contains four tools linked to the lifecycle of SERVIR services:
• Consultation and Needs Assessment
• Stakeholder Mapping
• Service Design
- Service Concept Template
- Product Definition Document Template
- Data Management Definition Document Template
- Capacity Building and Training Definition Document Template
• Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning
- Theory of Change Template.
SERVIR is a global network of leading regional knowledge centers, including the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD), the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC), and the Agrometeorology, Hydrology and Meteorology (AGRHYMET) Regional Center as well as other partners, dedicated to environmental management through the integration of Earth observations and geospatial technologies.
Building and relying upon a network of collaborators is fundamental to SERVIR. Beyond the sponsorship and active participation of NASA and USAID, collaboration spans a number of other US government agencies and projects, as well as partnerships with government agencies in the regions in which SERVIR operates, joint research with universities and non-governmental organizations, and capacity building with a host of specialized groups.
SERVIR brings together a variety of people from diverse backgrounds to create a special team for addressing complex environmental issues around the globe and providing solutions to local decision makers and stakeholders. Our team includes scientists, technicians, administrators, and other key people in the hubs, the SERVIR coordination office, NASA and USAID headquarters, NASA centers in the U.S., and universities and other institutions around the world.
Figure 2: Overview of SERVIR regional knowledge centers and regions connected to these centers (image credit: SERVIR Team)
SERVIR Success Stories
NASA, University of Twente join forces to connect space to village
April 2018: Continuous streams of Earth observations and information made possible by NASA form the foundation for critical environmental planning and decisions by people all over the world. But many organizations and governments are resource challenged and lack the capacity to put these timely insights to work. 3) 4)
A new partnership between NASA and the University of Twente — a public research university located in Enschede, Netherlands — aims to bridge some of those gaps. Scientific collaboration between the agency's SERVIR program and the University's Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) will help more people in developing countries harness the power of Earth observations and geospatial technologies to solve problems, improve lives and prepare for the future.
Figure 3: From left: Ashutosh Limaye, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center; Nancy Searby, NASA Headquarters Earth Science Division; Freek van der Meer, University of Twente Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation; Michael Freilich, NASA Headquarters Earth Science Division; Erna Leurink, University of Twente Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation; Lawrence Friedl, NASA Headquarters Earth Science Division; Dan Irwin, NASA Marshall; Andy Parks, NASA Headquarters Office of International and Interagency Relations; Ray French, NASA Marshall (image credit: NASA)
Leaders from both groups met April 17-18 at NASA Headquarters in Washington, to kick off the 10-year cooperative agreement.
"NASA is passionate about connecting with world-class partners that are already creating positive change," said Dan Irwin, SERVIR-Global program manager at NASA/MSFC in Huntsville, Alabama. "Through its renowned collaborative educational and research activities, ITC is doing just that — helping vulnerable communities build resilience and thrive in our changing planet."
SERVIR is already working with more than 45 countries to strengthen awareness of the unique benefits of Earth observations and to increase their use and impact through its network of four regional hubs in Eastern and Southern Africa, West Africa, the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, and the Lower Mekong region of Southeast Asia.
ITC is recognized worldwide for achievements in teaching, research and capacity development in the field of geo-information science and earth observation. ITC educates its students to be professionals capable of acquiring knowledge and translating this into practical applications for solving real-world problems.
"We really look forward to working together on institutional strengthening and regional capacity building with the SERVIR hubs, most of which have already had a long history of collaboration with ITC," said Dr. Freek van der Meer, vice chairman of the university's Department of Earth System Analysis. "Together we will focus on the ‘last mile' to embed Earth observation firmly in society and to help protect communities in developing countries."
Under the agreement, ITC and SERVIR team members will work hand-in-hand with local teams to develop training, enhance service-delivery and conduct research relevant to the needs of communities in SERVIR hub regions. The partnership will also create unique and innovative opportunities for enriched and continuing education for ITC students and SERVIR scientists.
"This is a phenomenal partnership," said Irwin. "Together, we'll leverage each other's strengths and do more to help ensure that scientific knowledge is applied and creates even greater societal benefits."
Building and relying upon a growing network of partners is foundational to the SERVIR program. SERVIR, which means "to serve" in Spanish, is a joint development initiative of NASA and the USAID in Washington. SERVIR works in partnership with leading regional organizations worldwide, creating tools, products and services that empower decision makers to better address critical issues related to food security, water resources, natural disasters, land use, and weather variability.
SERVIR's four hubs include the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development in Nairobi, Kenya; the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Kathmandu, Nepal; the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center in Bangkok, Thailand; and the Agrometeorology, Hydrology and Meteorology Regional Center in Niamey, Niger.
MESA (Monitoring of the Environment for Security in Africa)
The MESA program in the IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) region aims to enhance land degradation and natural habitats assessment and Forest Monitoring for sustainable management of environmental resources. This is achieved during the developing of operational geo-information services and by strengthening the information management capacity of regional and national institutions in order to support decision and policy making processes. MESA endeavours to facilitate access to Africa-wide environmental information derived from Earth Observation technologies, in particular SERVIR. 5)
Note: IGAD is an eight-country trade bloc in Africa. It includes governments from the Horn of Africa, Nile Valley, and the African Great Lakes. Its headquarters are in Djibouti City.
Specific results were been formulated from the above objective:
• Improved access to existing basic EO, field and ancillary data ensured for users in the IGAD region.
• Consolidation of existing operational information services established to improve policy and decision-making processes in Land Degradation Monitoring (LDM) and Natural Habitat Conservation (NHC) and development of a new Forest Monitoring (FM) service. The services produce and distribute regularly:
- land degradation index maps
- land cover change indicators on IGAD selected Natural Habitats areas
- Forest degradation, deforestation extent, vulnerability index map over the whole IGAD region.
• Political and policy development frameworks are strengthened to ensure an active and sustainable participation of IGAD member states in global environmental surveillance initiatives.
• Adequate technical capacity.
Figure 4: Overview of operational services in MESA IGAD (image credit: RCMRD)
Countries covered by MESA IGAD: Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Southern Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia.
Target Users within the IGAD region:
• Policy and decision-makers of the environmental and agricultural sectors at regional and national levels
• Technical officers within environmental, agricultural, forest and mapping agencies; lecturers and researchers of local universities.
SERVIR-Himalaya was established in 2010 (NASA and USAID) at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu, Nepal. ICIMOD is a regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing center serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayas. Countries served are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. With the increasing influence of globalization and climate change on the stability of fragile mountain ecosystems and the livelihoods of mountain people, ICIMOD aims to assist mountain people to understand these changes, adapt to them, and make the most of new opportunities, while addressing upstream-downstream issues. SERVIR-Himalaya strengthens ICIMOD's capabilities as an established regional resource center on geospatial information and Earth observation applications for the HKH (Hindu Kush Himalaya) region. Stakeholders range from decision-makers at the regional level addressing trans-boundary issues, to national governments, scientists, students, the general public, and development practitioners working in the region. 6)
Satellite-Based Visualization System for Water Resources in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan Region: This project progressively develops, calibrates, and validates a prototype satellite-based flood forecasting and visualization system for the Ganges, Indus, and Brahmaputra Rivers. 7)
Low-lying deltas of the Hindu Kush-Himalaya (HKH) region are vulnerable to a variety of water resource problems, leading to crop damage. The vulnerability is felt more acutely downstream because of the heavy population density and water-intensive agricultural economy of the low-lying deltas. It is important to build resilience against these vulnerabilities by developing accurate tools for assessing water cycle factors and predicting crop damage.
Application Purpose: The SERVIR Applied Sciences Team project aims at progressively developing, calibrating, and validating a prototype satellite-based water-resource and water-hazard mapping, early-warning, and post-disaster assessment visualization system for two river basin systems in the HKH region: the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) and the Indus. The visualization system will be developed such that it can be easily replicated for other SERVIR regions and countries with populous and water-vulnerable deltas (such as East Africa, Mekong).
Application Uses: The project team will assimilate multiple NASA datasets for mapping and characterizing the water resources of the HKH region based in part on the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) and the North American Multi-Modal Ensemble (NMME) seasonal precipitation forecast data provided by another Applied Sciences Team project (see "Leveraging CMIP5 and NASA GMAO Coupled Modeling Capacity Capacity for Climate Prediction"). These data will be used to produce an operational water availability visualization system for end users of HKH countries that allows access to hindcast, nowcast, and forecast and helps inform decisions on water management. The project will use the Hydrologic Engineering Center—River Analysis System (HEC-RAS) model to improve boundary condition forecasting for river forecasting applications in flood-prone deltas. The project will utilize and then scale up the application of radar altimetry for enhancing flood level forecasting for Indus and Ganges-Brahmaputra river basins. The river level forecasting will be used for both water supply/planning and flood management.
The project will provide: 1) a hydrological modeling system within a user friendly web-GIS interface set up for the GBM and Indus River basin systems for SERVIR-Himalaya; 2) historical and United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report projection-based simulations of hydrologic fluxes for the two basin systems; 3) a modular, satellite-based water-resource and water-hazard mapping, early-warning, and post-disaster assessment tool prototyped for Bangladesh (to be scaled up by ministries and agencies of other countries such as Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan); and 4) improved resilience of the Bangladesh government (as a model for other nations in the HKH region) against water resource vulnerability.
The five lessons that have emerged as a result of this research are:
• Using satellite data from visible and active microwave platforms (altimeter), we can indeed tell with high confidence how a river behaves at any given time (width and depth) when there is no ground data. This information can be used easily in river models for applications such as flood forecasting, water management, crop management, and data assimilation;
• Using extensive historical facts, river morphology, and local knowledge of rivers, it is possible to set up a working river model where flows are distributed according to drainage area of tributary sub-basins;
• Using extensive satellite data in the visible range it is possible to improve and enhance the river model further;
• Using Satellite based elevation data can further improve the river bed slope profile and accuracy of simulations;
• Use of lateral flows from a satellite precipitation driven hydrologic model in a river model can significantly improve river simulation and flood forecasting skill for ungauged rivers.
Forest Fire Detection and Monitoring System: 8) This application uses real-time satellite data to detect and monitor forest fires (sending alerts to mobile devices), and understand fire patterns. - Forest fires have become an environmental concern in recent years in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, posing a threat to human life and property and to the area's natural environment. As one example, during a recent dry season in Nepal, wildfires destroyed almost 240,000 hectares of forests (Ref. 6).
Application Purpose: Near real-time satellite Earth-observation data help Nepalese officials detect and monitor forest fires, research fire patterns, and assess damage in burnt areas. This capability is being expanded to include Bhutan. The Forest Fire Detection and Monitoring System uses Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data to detect, locate, characterize, and monitor forest fires. This information is sent via email or mobile technology to those responsible for managing, controlling, and extinguishing forest fires. Emails also include links to PDF maps that show fire locations along with district-level fire statistics. In addition, the application maintains a geo-referenced archive, updated daily from 2000 to the present, and an interactive web-mapping tool.
Application Uses. The Forest Fire Detection and Monitoring System uses real-time data downloaded by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development's (ICIMOD) MODIS receiving station. The application also adds key information from SERVIR-Himalaya, including administrative unit (district), protected area identification, land cover, elevation, and slope, as well as road-network data. The MODIS and ancillary data are used to identify the affected areas, provide district-level fire count statistics, and geographic information for locating the fires. Subscribers receive email and SMS alerts on their mobile phones. Additionally, with the interactive mapping application, the user can use a time-slider tool to select and view fires that occurred over a specified period, or overlay the MODIS data with, for example, the land-cover data, to assess the damage caused by the forest fire. The Department of Forest maintains a database of SMS subscribers including officials from all 75 districts of Nepal. Users/beneficiaries fall into three categories: 1) members of forest community groups receiving alerts to better respond to fires; 2) researchers and Department of Forest officials studying forest-fire patterns for future management strategies; and 3) officials concerned with fire suppression.
Satellite-Based Agriculture Drought Warning System: 9) This application uses remote sensing based vegetation, surface temperature, and precipitation data for monitoring crop growth and drought potential, providing drought early warning through an online system.
Two thirds of the people in Nepal depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and more than one third of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) comes from the agriculture sector. However, reliable crop production across the country remains a serious challenge due to significant spatial and temporal climate variability. Information on crop growth and stress and early warnings of drought are needed to plan for and mitigate the effects of drought. Using remote sensing derived data such as the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), land surface temperature (LST), and rainfall, the Satellite-based Agricultural Drought Early Warning System compares recent vegetation growth data to historical data and generates anomaly maps to indicate whether crop yields for the current year will be greater or lower than average in Nepal. Comparisons can be made both spatially and temporally and in maps and graphs at district and Village Developmental Committee (VDC) levels. Monitoring agricultural fields in this way alerts officials of potential shortages so that appropriate measures can be taken for avoiding impacts of agricultural drought.
Application Purpose: This application provides a comprehensive system that can provide timely information on crop production forecasts to relevant institutions involved in agriculture management and food security analysis and planning in Nepal. The information, provided in the form of online maps and data, will help decision-makers determine whether current farming practices are producing optimal crop yields or instead need to be modified.
Application Uses: With this application, users receive fortnightly drought warnings through a web-based information system, supporting mitigation planning. Ministries of Agriculture and related agencies at district and national levels can monitor the overall drought situation in various parts of the country and use this information for food security analysis and planning. International agencies and global initiatives can use the information for country-level planning.
Some background on the SERVIR Program
SERVIR (a Spanish word meaning "to serve") puts geospatial satellite images and analysis tools into the hands of local decision-makers around the world. Established in 2005, the SERVIR program today has a presence in four locations across Africa and Asia. The goals of its Mekong hub are to build regional resilience to land and water resource pressures and to moderate the effects of climate change in this part of Southeast Asia. 10)
Table 1: Thinking globally, acting locally
Figure 5: Before (left) and after (right) satellite images show the extent of flooding in the Ayutthaya Province, Thailand, in 2011 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, image created by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using EO-1 ALI data provided courtesy of the NASA EO-1 team and the U.S. Geological Survey)
SERVIR-Mekong: The SERVIR-Mekong hub, located in Bangkok, Thailand, supports a region that is interconnected by geography and climate. The five countries of the Lower Mekong River Basin (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam) are home to almost 240 million people spread over just 1.9 million km2 — an area slightly smaller than Mexico but with almost twice its population. The impacts of development decisions almost always cross international borders, as NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) have noted, so government and private policy planning must be done with an eye to conflicting agendas and shared environmental consequences (Ref 10). 11)
Figure 6: Mekong River basin area is about 5000km long (image credit: Wikipedia) 12)
The Mekong River and its tributaries provide irrigation and drinking water to the region and sustain its important fish populations. According to the National Heritage Institute (NHI), a U.S. NGO, the Mekong provides more food than any other river in the world. It's also one of the world's most threatened water systems (Ref. 10).
NHI data show that 48 major hydropower dams are either already operating or are under construction along the Mekong River, and another 71 are being planned. While dams can bring needed energy to communities, they can also have significant costs. Dams can alter access to water, disrupt the viability of fish populations, and reduce overall food security. Commercial harvesting of forest products and the infrastructure development that accompanies economic activity also threaten water quality across the region.
Climate change is placing additional pressures on the Lower Mekong, which is uniquely vulnerable to its effects. The Mekong River Commission, an intergovernmental water management organization, predicts that rising sea levels and more frequent precipitation will inevitably lead to more extreme weather and its associated impacts, such as floods, droughts, saltwater intrusion and soil erosion.
Under these circumstances, tools that help visualize and quantify local environmental conditions would almost certainly benefit the people charged with public planning.
Tailored Solutions: The regional nature of each SERVIR hub allows its staff to customize products to local problems and capabilities. "We really tried to start with the end users and develop products and services around them," Irwin says.
Eco-Dash, for example, is a computer-based tool that scores changes in biomass quality across large geographic areas. It was developed by the SERVIR-Mekong team in response to a request from Winrock International, a U.S. NGO that administers the USAID-funded Vietnam Forests and Deltas (VFD) Program. The VFD Program is an effort to help the country develop climate-change resilience through such adaptation and mitigation approaches as sustainable landscapes and reduced emissions from deforestation.
To better illuminate how impacted ecosystems are evolving, Eco-Dash crunches multispectral imagery data from two Earth Observing System satellites and runs them through a standardized assessment algorithm — the Enhanced Vegetation Index — to generate a graphical depiction of changes.
Figure 7: Eco-Dash was developed by the SERVIR-Mekong team at the request of a U.S. NGO. Eco-Dash crunches multispectral imagery data from satellites and runs them through an algorithm to generate a graphical depiction of how vegetation is changing. Green indicates an increase in vegetation, red indicates a decrease, and yellow indicates no change (image credit: SERVIR-Mekong/ADPC)
Eco-Dash "provides consistent spatial and temporal comparisons of vegetation conditions over time," says Tran Lan Huong, a Winrock GIS specialist. Like all SERVIR products, it's available online at no cost, and is designed for ease of use: Set a few on-screen controls to define the search conditions, hit the "update" button, and wait about 15 seconds before results are drawn on a color-coded map. "We use it twice a year to assess the impact of our interventions in the forest areas of Thanh Hóa and Nghê An provinces," Huong says. "As these provinces are two of the largest forest areas in the country, the tool saves us both time and money."
A further SERVIR-Mekong product, the Surface Water Mapping Tool (SWMT), was developed in response to a request from another NGO. NHI needed to make recommendations about optimal dam construction sites on the Xe Kong River, one of the Mekong's large lower tributaries, as part of its support for the USAID Climate Resilient Mekong project. NHI asked for a tool to assess how proposed dams might impact the seasonal water cycles of the wetland environments that support fish spawning.
The SWMT processes archived imagery from Landsats-7 and -8 and draws maps depicting the extent of groundwater sources over selected time periods. Five government agencies and two NGOs in the region now use the tool for infrastructure planning.
Figure 8: SWMT (Surface Water Mapping Tool) is used to assess how proposed dams might impact the seasonal water cycles of wetlands along the Mekong (image credit: SERVIR-Mekong/ADPC)
The SERVIR-Mekong team tries to design its products for use with minimal information technology infrastructure. One solution they've embraced is cloud computing. "Like most of our work, the data at the core of [SWMT] are freely available to anyone," says Ate Poortinga, an SIG hydrologist. "But SWMT requires a lot of data and a lot of processing power, so we took advantage of Google Earth Engine, which houses the entire imagery archive."
The Google Earth Engine allows users to work with large geospatial datasets on cloud servers. Nearly everything offered by the Mekong hub is now designed for, or is being converted for use with, Google Earth Engine. Hub staff members are still trained to teach outside users how to use SERVIR toolsets, however, to help users effectively interact with their geospatial data.
Everyone Gets Involved: While government agencies, universities, NGOs and other organizations typically contact the hub staff directly for support, a "Request Technical Assistance" button on the landing page of the SERVIR-Mekong website offers everyone a fast and easy way to get help. "If a small NGO in the middle of Laos needed something, there's a mechanism for engaging us even if they can't physically travel to a SERVIR office," says David Saah, director of the Geospatial Analysis Lab at the University of San Francisco and science and data co-lead at SERVIR-Mekong. Several tools, including Eco-Dash, began with a request via this button.
The path between request and completed product isn't always straight. An NGO might need a tool for a remote area, but if official decisions are going to be made with it, a local government agency must still approve its use. The SERVIR-Mekong staff anticipates this by trying to involve all stakeholders throughout the entire development process.
"We invite all the representatives," Saah says, "so we have pretty cross-cutting representation from government, academia and NGOs from each country. We bring them in for targeted workshops and we start to build a product together." Along the way, members with expertise in areas such as policy, technology, science and employment each contribute to the final product.
This is a situation where the SERVIR-Mekong partnership with ADPC has paid off well, Saah notes; the extensive community and organizational networks built by ADPC throughout the Lower Mekong help identify stakeholders and engage them in SERVIR work. Such partnerships between hubs and regional agencies have been a key contribution to overall SERVIR program productivity.
Even with stakeholder collaboration, however, new projects can take a while to complete. "People exposed to new technologies, new tools and new opportunities can't always articulate what they're looking for," says Peter Cutter, science and data co-lead at SERVIR-Mekong. "Sometimes we have to connect the dots of what we think they have in mind." A rough concept like this will typically change the conversation and lead to something else, still provisional, but closer to the end goal. The process is repeated until stakeholders are comfortable with the product and its intended role in their domains.
A Different Kind of Mission Control: Just as NASA provides ongoing support to its space missions, it also provides ongoing support to its SERVIR hubs. The NASA SERVIR Coordination Office at Marshall Spaceflight Center is ready to help whenever a hub asks for assistance. Eric Anderson is the SERVIR-Mekong regional science lead. A research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and at the Marshall Spaceflight Center, Anderson works with the program through a cooperative agreement with the space agency.
Staying up to date is the first priority for the Science Coordination Office, Anderson says. "The hubs are well up to speed, but there's always something new," he says. "Part of my function is to participate in NASA applied science meetings, so our office is aware of the latest and greatest from any of those teams."
During his term, Anderson says he has noticed that experiences reported back from SERVIR hubs are starting to influence NASA technical approaches. "Satellite developers are opening up more and more to hearing user community needs," he says. "It's nice to have information flow the other way — from on-the-ground users to scientists and engineers."
USAID staff in each SERVIR region also coordinate with NASA to make sure the local hub's needs are being met, and arrange for hub members to meet each year to exchange best practices. Irwin says that consistent USAID involvement has also influenced NASA operational practices. "NASA has learned a softer side from USAID as SERVIR has evolved," he says. "How are country consultations developed? How do you ask the right questions and ask the right people? Once you have the needs, how do you develop and implement a process and gather metrics so you know that you're doing a good job?" These are all questions NASA is now asking, he says. "That's been valuable to NASA as we grow SERVIR and other programs."
Additionally, informal networking across the hubs is now thriving on its own. Although each SERVIR hub has its own regional character, common issues and common solutions eventually tend to surface. "As the network has grown," Irwin says, "the most exciting thing about SERVIR is the hubs working with each other. They exchange scientific ideas and algorithms. They even exchange their business and operational practices." The hubs now maintain several inter-hub working groups to make sure that everyone is aware of what's available and what works best, augmenting the support from the Science Coordination Office.
Capacity Building: Passing autonomy to the hubs and to the communities they support is an implicit goal of the SERVIR program, Irwin says. "The vision is to work ourselves out of a job, or at least reduce our footprint as regions become self-sustaining." Eventually, he says, the locals will "be the service providers and we'll take more of a back seat role." SERVIR-Mesoamerica, for example, ended its formal relationship with SERVIR in 2011. Years later, many of its original capabilities are still functioning through CATHALAC.
Work on new technologies continues throughout NASA and the space community. "There are new missions going on all the time that we have in our sights because they're going to be game changers," Cutter says. Right now, he's specifically interested in a new NASA LIDAR satellite that will generate imagery that could improve forest models. He also notes that data sources outside of NASA, such as radar and multispectral imagery from European Space Agency Sentinel satellites, are being integrated into SERVIR tools.
Figure 9: These graphics of the Lower Mekong Basin created by SERVIR-Mekong show ecozones (above) and proposed annual average maximum daily temperature and annual precipitation changes by 2050 (above left and left). The transfer of such data to local decision-makers helps build regional resilience to land and water resource pressures, and moderate the effects of climate change in this part of Southeast Asia (image credit: USAID)
The latest SERVIR-Mekong development project is the Regional Drought Information System. With the recent droughts still fresh in everyone's memories, the Vietnam Academy for Water Resources (VAWR) has been charged with providing planning guidance to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to mitigate future droughts. VAWR sought out SERVIR-Mekong for a solution. "Vietnam was under severe drought conditions ... and there was a lack of information on the ground," says Tran D. Trinh of VAWR. "We were looking for tools that could utilize remote sensing data for drought monitoring and management, and found that SERVIR-Mekong had the techniques and tools that we needed."
SERVIR is currently active in more than 30 countries and is about to expand again; last year, NASA and the Peru office of USAID posted a grant opportunity for what will become SERVIR-Amazonia, a new hub for South America (Ref. 10).
Sample of SERVIR Relief Efforts
• August 17, 2018: The July 23 failure of the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam unleashed more than 130 billion gallons (49 km3) of water on rural villages in southern Laos, in Southeast Asia, devastating thousands of houses and businesses and displacing more than 6,000 people. As authorities scrambled to gather information in the wake of the disaster, scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, activated a new tool to help them assess the damage and get help to people in need. 13)
- NASA researchers John Bolten and Perry Oddo and Stanford University researcher Aakash Ahamed recently developed a system that predicts flood damage based on satellite and ground data. The model estimates floodwater depth, adds information about land use and building infrastructure, and generates a dollar-value calculation of the damage in the target area.
- The model was designed to use data from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), a spaceborne instrument that takes high-resolution photos using electromagnetic energy from plants and water to study Earth's surface and atmosphere. MODIS data is available to researchers just three hours after it is collected, making it useful for near-real-time applications where speed is important.
- However, MODIS cannot collect data through cloud cover, so to contribute to the Laos relief effort, the researchers adapted the model to use radar data from Japanese satellite ALOS-2 and ESA's (European Space Agency) Sentinel-1 (Figures 10 and 11).
- "Our partners needed to know areas of flooding and inundation rather quickly," said Bolten, associate program manager of water resources for the NASA Applied Sciences Program. "Just a couple of days after the event, we were able to come up with the information that they needed."
- In addition to the estimated cost of damages the researchers created maps of the flooded areas from satellite images, making them available for other agencies to use.
- The researchers provided the data to several NASA partners working on recovery in Laos and other regions in a coordinated effort through SERVIR, a joint initiative between NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the NASA Disasters Program. SERVIR has a hub in the Mekong River basin, which stretches from Tibet through Laos and to Vietnam and Cambodia. SERVIR collaborates with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, a nonprofit organization that works to build disaster and climate change resilience in Southeast Asia.
- "Local authorities and decision-makers in Laos are scrambling to get information as quickly as they can, and NASA was able to step up to the plate and deliver information in near real-time," Bolten said. He described the model as a "value-added" product: "Rather than simply saying ‘this area is flooded,' we've added value to the flood map by including the floodwater depth, population, hectares of agriculture affected, locations of building footprints and so on with our damage assessment system."
- The model uses near real-time data from NASA and other satellites to produce these estimates quickly, which is beneficial for rapid response efforts. It also provides decision-makers access to clear, understandable data.
Figure 10: The Sentinel-1 satellite image from ESA's (European Space Agency) Copernicus program observed the area surrounding the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy dam in Laos before the dam's failure on July 17, 2018 (image credit: NASA Disasters/Marshall Space Flight Center/Alaska Satellite Facility; the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018) processed by ESA)
Figure 11: The Sentinel-1 satellite image from ESA's Copernicus program observed the area surrounding the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy dam in Laos after the dam's failure on July 23, 2018. The image was observed on 25 July (image credit: NASA Disasters/Marshall Space Flight Center/Alaska Satellite Facility; the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018) processed by ESA)
- "After a flood, especially in this region, there will be an extensive damage evaluation, which can take many weeks or months," said Perry Oddo, a support scientist at Goddard and lead author on the paper detailing the model's development. "Oftentimes, without information on how these damage assessments were conducted, the results we get can be somewhat vague. We hope that with this kind of very transparent, standardized approach we will be able to look at flood events across time and compare them."
- The researchers' next step is to use economic evaluation tools to determine how beneficial the system is from a financial perspective. For example, first responders who have access to these early damage estimates might direct crews and resources more efficiently than those who do not.
- "In a decision-making context, if a disaster strikes and you have resources to allocate and emergency response crews to manage, how does that change if you have access to these observations instead of operating blind?" Oddo said. "Hopefully, the inclusion of NASA Earth observations will lead to a reduction in expenses, shorter time to rescue, and increase in the number of people whose needs are cared for."
1) "SERVIR Overview," NASA,4 Aug. 2017 (update), URL: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/servir/overview.html
3) "NASA, University of Twente join forces to connect space to village," University of Twente, 20 April 2018, URL: https://www.utwente.nl/en/news/!/2018/4/434009
4) "NASA, University of Twente Join Forces to Connect Space to Village," NASA, 18 April 2018, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/servir
7) "Satellite-Based Visualization System for Water Resources in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan Region," ICIMOD, URL: http://catalogue.servirglobal.net/Product?product_id=32
10) Steve Murray, "From space to village: NASA's SERVIR program brings a big picture to local communities," Earth Magazine, 2 January 2018, URL: https://www.earthmagazine.org/article
11) Perry C. Oddo, Aakash Ahamed, John D. Bolten, "Socioeconomic Impact Evaluation for Near Real-Time Flood Detection in the Lower Mekong River Basin," Hydrology 2018, Volume 5, No.2, published on 10 April 2018, https://doi.org/10.3390/hydrology5020023, URL:
12) "SERVIR Mekong Project," URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SERVIR_Mekong_Project
13) Jessica Merzdorf, "Scientists Deploy Damage Assessment Tool in Laos Relief Efforts," NASA, 17 August 2018, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (firstname.lastname@example.org).