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Remote Sensing, Environmental Change, & Human Health

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Session Description: 

Overview & Relevance:
Natural and induced environmental change is a major concern of our times. In many cases the change is beneficial and deliberate, producing a sustainable increase in economic development. In other cases the benefits are offset by hidden costs, are of short lived duration, or are unintentional and uncontrolled. Such changed can often contribute to a deterioration in the health and welfare of local communities. In this workshop we considered the example of malaria epidemics in the rainforest of Amazonia.

The management of change requires a concerted effort by governments, international organizations and research workers. It requires the efficient deployment of existing tools and the introduction and testing of new tools. One such tool is the technology of remote sensing and geographical information systems (RS/GIS).
RS/GIS is proposed as an appropriate technology for both research and surveillance in mitigation of health problems. The technology offers a regional perspective which should be well suited to the needs of the decision-maker. As a technique for describing spatial diversity it offers new insights to the research scientist.
With few exceptions, the potential of this technology in the field of human health has remained unexplored. The outstanding need is to deliver it to all who may which to assess its promise.


Task Group I: Remote Sensing, Environmental Change and Human Health
The Aspen Global Change Institute held a two week workshop to explore the relationship between remote sensing, environmental change and human health. Specialists from a range of disciplines discussed the existing and potential application of RS/GIS technology to human health problems of the tropical and temperate regions.
Because of the variety of potential applications, the group decided to focus on vector-borne diseases in the tropics. The current state of surveillance and control of many of these diseases is critical. Control agencies are characterized by a shortage of funds, facilities, trained personnel and motivation. There is little political will to continue with vector control campaigns which are badly targeted and unable to assess or respond to rapid spatial and temporal changes in vector and disease distribution.

The working group began by concentrating on the example of forest edge malaria in Amazonia. This example encapsulates many of the problems of vector-borne disease control: economic pressures leading to population redistribution; deforestation leading to rapid changes in contact between people and vectors; difficulty of delivering health care to vulnerable communities.

Educational Task Group: The Ground Truth Studies Project
The purpose of the educational task group was to tap the expertise of the present assembly of scientists in order to review and criticize the current Teacher Handbook and to develop new activities based on their expertise. New activities should provide students with opportunities to make meaningful measurements in areas related to human health, remote sensing, and global change.

Discussions in the task group meetings ranged over three areas: firstly, that of enhancing the existing Teacher handbook, its primers and activities, secondly new activities were discussed for the handbook; and thirdly, and most importantly, the curriculum concept and aims of the Ground Truth Studies Project were debated.
Talks with Walter Bogan, Jim lawless and John Katzenberger fit the concept of the Ground Truth Studies Project activities into the framework of the seven Global Change Science priorities of the US Committee on Earth Sciences (CEG) and the seven research priorities of the International Social Science Council (ISSC). This provides an existing and well thought out framework in which to formulate the activities of the GTS Project which corresponds with present global change research. The use of this framework helps keep in mind the goal that the activities make the logical development from tools for studying the local environment to an understanding of the effects of local action on global change.

The Ground Truth Studies Project
The purpose of the Ground Truth Studies Project is to create hands-on opportunity for students to learn about their local environment and how it relates to global change. It is a science based educational supplement to the classroom designed to increase student awareness of the excitements and process of science. The long term goal of GTS is to develop a scientifically and educationally sound program on global change for K-12 students both nationally and internationally.

The GTS Instructional Framework
The instructional framework of the GTS project is built up in three stages.
Firstly, that of teaching students the skills necessary to understand and use remote sensing. Activities are designed to explore and develop basic tools and concepts for field observation and measurement, perception, scale, mapping, graphing, recording, etc.

The Second phase of instruction introduces what and how we learn about earth systems. These activities develop basic skills in utilizing and interpreting remotely sensed images of the earth and corresponding ground truth activities for learning more about the local environment.

The final phase develops activities that are aimed at integrating the range of observation and concepts developed in the first two phases into an understanding of the micro or local scale environment and then relating local data to regional and global scale earth systems. It helps students develop an understanding of how local actions of individuals and communities add up to regional and global effects and an exploration of community based strategies for mitigating negative impacts.

Workshop Topic (s): 
  • Climate Variability and Change (including Climate Modeling)
  • Ecosystems
  • Human Contributions & Responses
  • Land-Use/Land-Cover Change