On the weekend of 28 – 30 April 2017 we participated in the NASA SpaceApps Hackathon held in Toronto to create solutions to to some of the NASA-designed challenges. Our solution “Drop the Drought” won the hackathon and have moved to the Space Apps Global Round https://2017.spaceappschallenge.org/challenges/our-ecological-neighborhood/our-planet-our-home/teams/drop-the-drought/project
Artash took upon the challenge “Our Planet, Our Home” to come up with Drop the Drought application which uses satellite imagery to predict climate change induced droughts, and migration that may happen as people and cattle move out in search of food and water. It gives Governments and people time to act before droughts turn to famines and catastrophes.
We used satellite imagery from NASA Satellites : LandSat, Terra MODIS and Aqua MODIS, and human data from the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) hosted at the Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York to understand how vegetation levels are changing in areas of high population density. We used normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) as an indicator of plant health and simulated the visual data over several months to see the changes in the index.
Our focus for Drop the Drought was on countries where a large section of population practices rain-fed farming, or where there are sizable pastoral communities.
During our presentation before the judges at the NASA SpaceApps Toronto we used data from Kenya-Uganda border and our application was able to show the difference in vegetation index of these two countries (Uganda is healthier while drought conditions are evident in Kenya) and the migration that may happen of agrarian and pastoral communities from Kenya to Uganda in search of food and fodder. And this is exactly what is now happening as per the global news.
It is natural for droughts to happen. But as we thought through and came up with our Drop the Drought solution we found it un-natural that in spite of having an eye in the sky for last 15 years (the constellation of satellites that are constantly monitoring Earth and providing us data) we are not able to see droughts coming in and take action before they happen. We hope this would change through our application so that people and livestock do not have to go through untold misery.
And we need support to develop this application further.
NASA Space Apps is an international hackathon that occurs over 48 hours in cities around the world. This year it was organised in 187 locations in 69 countries with an estimated 25,000 participants.