The Applied Science Teams support SERVIR in developing science applications for international development through the use of Earth observations. Team members conduct applications research, development, and testing, and participate in capacity building. From 94 proposals, NASA selected 20 finalists based on a panel review and the needs identified in thematic service areas of five regional hubs in Eastern and Southern Africa, Hindu Kush-Himalaya, Lower Mekong, West Africa, and Amazonia regions. Funding amounts to $4.5M for the first year and a total of $13.7M over the full 3 years of the grants.

Here are our SERVIR-Amazonia winners

Douglas Morton / Goddard Space Flight Center
Forecasting Seasonal to Sub-Seasonal Fire and Agricultural Risk from Drought in Amazonia

Rainfall timing and distribution drives changes in ecosystems and how people adapt to nature in the Amazon. Water scarcity or overabundance may affect river navigation, agricultural food security or sustainable development problems at multiple scales. Droughts are particularly harmful to human and natural systems especially when they increase risks for destructive fires. Amazon droughts can be predicted in the future by analyzing sea surface temperatures in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Droughts can drive destructive wildfires. The capacity to predict droughts can help us better understand vulnerability to fires and fire risk across the basin.

This project seeks to provide information for mitigating negative impacts of drought and fire on forest and agriculture in the Amazon basin. The project will evaluate drought conditions at temporal and spatial resolution, which is needed for management by government agencies, the private sector and civil society. The project will evaluate drought conditions at temporal and spatial resolution is needed for management by government agencies, the private sector and civil society. The effort includes three applied science tasks that will be developed in partnership with SERVIR-Amazonia scientist and stakeholders. First, the project will build on existing work to improve seasonal fire forecasting with a focus on better temporal and spatial resolution in the prediction of fire vulnerability. Second, the project will detect small fires and understory fires using several satellite platforms, with a focus on information for improved management. These products will fill a current gap by detecting fires that current global algorithms often miss. The second component of work will help stakeholders characterize fires and quantify their negative impacts on ecosystem services. Finally the project will use fire forecasting models for developing dry season metrics and for predicting how these metrics change.

Jim Nelson / Brigham Young University
Improving Resiliency and Reducing Risk of Extreme Hydrologic Events through Application of Earth Observations and In Situ Monitoring Information 

The Amazon Basin is a critical component of the global climate system. In recent years, extreme hydrologic events such as floods and droughts have intensified and wreaked havoc on the communities and environments of the world’s largest river basin. This project will bring together well-established and newly developed free and open sources web tools to empower key stakeholders in the region to co-develop actionable water resources information. Ultimately, the project aims to support water security that provides adequate water quantity for livelihoods, ecosystems, and production while maintaining acceptable water-related risks to people, environments, and economies. This information enables decision-making that supports flood early warning and disaster risk reduction, as well as enhanced management for drinking water supply, improved sanitation and wastewater, reliable energy security, drought planning and response, climate change resilience, environmental restoration and more.1

Nelson’s team at BYU’s Hydroinformatics Lab has several years of experience working in the region, with several important stakeholders including Colombia’s Instituto de Hidrología, Meteorología y Estudios Ambientales (IDEAM), Peru’s Servicio Nacional de Meteorología e Hidrología (SENAMHI), and Brazil’s disaster management agency Centro Nacional de Monitoramento e Alertas de Desastres Naturais (CEMADEN). The team intends to contribute not only our own scientific expertise in flood impact analysis, but are also to the extended Hub network and SERVIR thematic teams by developing geospatial decision-making web apps using the free and open-source software Tethys Platform.

Naiara Pinto / Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Unlocking the Power of Active Remote Sensing for Ecosystem Services Modeling in the Amazon’s Forest-Agriculture Interface 

Active remote sensing is critical for characterizing high cloud cover / high biomass tropical ecosystems such as the Amazon. This project will help Latin American governments incorporate free radar and lidar datasets into existing monitoring programs.  Pinto’s team proposes to co-develop and implement an open-source land cover mapping system with the SERVIR-Amazonia Hub in support of the Land Cover and Land Use Change and Ecosystems thematic service area. The collaborative framework is focused on land cover mapping at the forest/agriculture interface through characterization of disturbance gradients and identification of plantation sites. At the same time, the project will prepare Latin American researchers and decision makers for leveraging the high volume of free datasets produced by NASA’s NISAR and GEDI missions.

The stakeholders are farmers enrolled in sustainable landscape initiatives as well as decision makers in NGOs and government that support sustainable agriculture practices. The project team plans to leverage subnational initiatives in Ucayali – Peru, Caquetá – Colombia, and Pará – Brazil building on collaborations with local communities and monitoring agencies such as MINAM and IMAFLORA, producing lessons and workflows that can be adapted to other Amazonian sites.

Photo 1: Site where Pinto’s team will be implementing the project

Stephanie Spera / University of Richmond
Quantifying the Effects of Forest Cover Changes on Provisioning and Regulating Ecosystem Services in the Southwestern Amazon 

The Amazon rainforest provides ecosystem services to 33 million people, including 1.5 million Indigenous people from 385 different groups, living within the biome boundary. The goals of this project are to understand how forest degradation, deforestation, and road building affect the ecosystem services provided by the hydrologic cycle in the Southwestern Amazon and to develop data and tools to improve water management in the region.

Spera’s team will work in the areas of Ucayali, Peru and Acre, Brazil to characterize changes in forest cover using remotely-sensed data and fieldwork, and attribute these changes in forest cover to localized changes in evapotranspiration (ET), soil moisture, humidity, and surface temperature. The effect-radius of these changes in forest cover (how far away these changes are felt) will be determined, and maps generated that highlight areas that have undergone changes in microclimatology and land-use. The team will also create a statistics-based tool that will allow users to analyze tradeoffs between land cover change and ecosystem services through scenarios modelling. This information will be shared through trainings, fieldwork, and workshops with partner communities and universities. 

The project will emphasize capacity strengthening of local indigenous and non-indigenous groups, as well as colleagues at CIAT and SERVIR Amazonia-Hub partner institutions such as ACCA-MAAP, and colleagues and students with current partners in the region. Updated maps of transportation infrastructure, forest cover change, and the disturbance of ecosystem services (temperature, ET, precipitation, and soil moisture) will be useful to locals and planners. These maps can also provide a baseline for future climate modelling analyses on feedbacks between forest disturbance and regional climate. Moreover, involving locals will allow indigenous and non-indigenous groups to participate in the creation of knowledge in the region. 

Figure 1. A: South America, with the Amazon basin outlined in red, Ucayali and Acre highlighted in grey. B: Blue hatched lines designate indigenous reserves; green areas are conservation areas. The Purus River (P), Juruá River (J) and Ucayali River (U) are also highlighted. C: Tributary of the Ucayali River (pink box, B). Colors represent forest loss between 2001-2005 (purple); 2005-2010 (green); 2011-2015 (yellow) and 2016-2017 (red) (Hansen et al. 2013).