How do your professional career and/or your personal experience relate to space technologies and water? How did you first get in touch with space technologies?
I first began using space technologies when I started my internship at NASA JPL in August 2020. I had used a remote sensing product or map here and there for other uses, such as setting up a physically-based computer model but I didn’t really start learning about space technologies and their applications until fairly recently when I started the internship. However, I learned pretty quickly how useful remote sensing data are for managing water and other resources.
Could you tell us about your current work, your latest project or your proudest professional moment?
I am currently working on a few different projects. My PhD work involves using models and remote sensing to better understand snow, droughts, and food security. My internship work is using ECOSTRESS Land Surface Temperature data to study changes in thermal habitat for endemic fish species.
You have worked on a project on water and women in India, can you elaborate on the project and your research findings? How do you think space technologies can be best used to support women and the crucial role they play in relation to water?
I was mainly contributing as a research support for this project. I helped find useful/relevant papers to contribute to a paper about gender dynamics and water resources in India. I did not work with the visiting researcher long enough to see the paper to its conclusion, but the general finding was that there are gender disparities in who has access to clean water and when.
In much of the developing world, women are farmers and space technologies that help manage water and crops more effectively can go a long way to help farmers and women support their small farms.
Can you elaborate on your research findings about vector-borne illnesses and clean water in Thailand? How could space technologies be utilized in the fight against vector-borne disease?
I participated in a community-based research program in Northeast Thailand during my junior year where we learned about a variety of communicable and noncommunicable diseases that are prevalent in developing countries. We studied how Thailand and other parts of SE Asia are often plagued by malaria during the rainy season and in more rural areas. Additionally, we discussed how clean water and fecal sludge management (i.e., the effect of open sewers on health) can contribute to healthy populations.
I haven’t utilized space technologies to fight against vector borne illnesses, but I am aware of a very cool project that is using ECOSTRESS data to support epidemiological monitoring of malaria. There are other uses of remote sensing data for supporting public health activities, such as mapping urban heat stress.
What do you think is poorly understood or unresolved at the nexus of water and health in general? Why is this so? How do you believe space technologies add value to eventually close the gaps?
I think a lot of the challenge concerns how climate change will impact the timing of the availability of food and water resources. We of course know that climate change is affecting these but there is still uncertainty about future changes in precipitation and other hydroclimate variability. Additionally, climate change has had an effect on malaria incidence and prevalence, with malaria emerging in areas where it hasn’t historically been. So, how will future change affect disease prevalence? Remote sensing provides a more spatially continuous dataset in certain areas than on the ground monitoring. We can use this to monitor how different aspects of food and water systems evolve over a given period or during an event, such as a drought or very wet period, at a much greater spatial scale. Additionally, remote sensing can provide information about resources that can’t easily be measured, such as groundwater.
In your graduate degree in civil engineering, you covered several topics related to water, please share with us, ...
How does municipal watershed modelling relate to wildfires?
Municipal watersheds in the western US, particularly ones in cooler and wetter areas that have historically experienced very infrequent wildfires, are concerned about the possibility of wildfires disrupting their operations. Climate change is altering wildfire regimes and municipal watersheds are trying to understand their risk and susceptibility to wildfire and how they could potentially adapt. We can use physically based simulation models (i.e., models that calculate fluxes of carbon and water in different part of the environment, such as the soil or forest), coupled with a fire spread and effects model, to better understand how climate change will affect wildfire regimes, such as for the City of Seattle Washington’s municipal watershed. This unique approach allows us to account for future hydroclimate changes and its influence on vegetations structures and aridity, which would drive changes in wildfire occurrence, severity, etc. The reason for municipal watersheds being concerned about wildfires is because wildfires degrade water quality from increased rates of erosion. Hence, if municipal watersheds don’t have a water treatment plant (some get their water from pristine water sources and don’t have treatment plants) such erosions could interrupt the municipal watershed’s operations.
Which EO data products can be used to forecast and model snowmelt?
For forecasting snowmelt, we have been using the large-scale Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) model forced with different climate models. Because there are no remote sensing products that directly measure snow water equivalent (SWE) we use datasets that utilize a variety of Earth Observations and models. We can also use EO data, such as snow cover extent, to calibrate and evaluate model simulations. What is a snow drought and what role do remote sensing & models play?
Snow droughts is a type of drought that recently has formed a new area of research. Snow droughts describe conditions marked by a lack of snowpack, which can be driven by changes in temperature or precipitation (or both). Often times in the western US, assessments of seasonal snowpacks look at the April 1st SWE amount and use that to make management decisions. We are starting to see that this perhaps is not the best method. Studying snow using the tools developed in drought research can provide more information about the evolution of snowpacks throughout the colder months. Remote sensing can help us better understand historical snow droughts and their impacts and we can use models to project future changes.
You work on the ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) mission. What can we learn about thermal aquatic habitat mapping using ECOSTRESS (remote sensing)?
ECOSTRESS is a unique instrument because it is docked on the International Space Station (ISS) and therefore has variable overpass times (compared to a geostationary satellite, which usually overpasses at about the same time a day). The ISS also overpasses about every 1 to 5 days, so that it has a frequent revisit time. Because ECOSTRESS is a thermal radiometer, we can use the land surface temperature product to investigate aquatic thermal habitats. After deriving and quantifying a relationship between skin surface temperature (given by ECOSTRESS) and bulk water temperatures (given by in situ water temperature monitors), we can use ECOSTRSS to study thermal habitats at depth for a greater spatial coverage than in situ coverage. People at JPL are working with California resource managers to apply the research and use the maps to conserve thermal habitats for endemic fish species.
How do you see your future professional career relate to space technologies and water? What are your aims and ambitions? What are your next steps?
I hope to continue working on global-scale or international problems related to water, the environment, and human/sustainable development using a variety of tools, such as remote sensing and computer models. After I finish my PhD, I would love to work for NASA, a national lab, or a UN agency doing research broadly related to climate change, water and food security, and/or human development.
Youth is increasingly concerned with the lack of international action to address climate change? In your opinion, which water-related issues are most importantly to be
Equitable access to enough water and protection of various ecosystems. Everyone should have access to water, but we also need to ensure that we protect sensitive ecosystems in order to make sure it is clean water; nature is the greatest water filter we have. It is critical to ensure that everyone has sustainable access to clean water because water is so important to leading a healthy and prosperous life.
How do you keep up to date with technological developments in the space sector? Do you have any tips for other young professionals?
I like to use social media and attend presentations. NASA and ESA both have very active Instagram accounts about Earth sciences. These accounts provide interesting and useful updates on missions, satellite technologies, and other things happening related to the Earth sciences. Additionally, particularly because I’m still starting out with remote sensing, I enjoy listening to other people speak about the data products they use and how they are using the data. It seems like there are so many interesting and innovative ways to use remote sensing data, so hearing about different uses and applications is always interesting.
What do you need to innovate?
A lot of curiosity and enough knowledge of available resources to figure out how to ask and answer interesting questions.
What is your favourite aggregate state of water?
Snow! I love winter and have since I was little. It was a fun realization learning that people make a career out of studying snow.