NASA Satellite Data Interpreted for Medical and Public Health Use

Laboratory for Global Health Observation
University of Alabama at Birmingham, School
of Public Health
Birmingham, AL

A partnership between NASA’s National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC) and the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is using NASA satellite imagery and data to determine how environmental factors influence diseases such as malaria and childhood asthma.

UAB’s Laboratory for Global Health Observation is the country’s first dedicated remote-sensing lab for medical and public health use. Using geographic information systems (GIS) technology, a Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite receiver triangulates its position using three to four satellites orbiting the Earth. Pictures from the satellites are digitized and incorporated into a GIS database to create colorful digital maps and pictures that show the visible or thermal properties of an area.

The partnership started with a study called Regards (Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke), which focused on how racial and geographic differences affected the potential for strokes. Latitude and longitude data from participants in the study was merged with NASA remotesensing data. NASA’s satellite technology is now being used to determine if there is a variation in blood pressure associated with meteorological conditions.

Other studies are using the satellite technology, including a study on whether there is a correlation between seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and sunlight radiation. The satellites also are being used to locate standing water, a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and treat those areas to prevent malaria. The technology is also being used to study the effects of high concentrations of ground-level ozone, particulate matter, and other atmospheric pollutants on respiratory diseases such as asthma.

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