Applied Science Team

Through SERVIR, NASA's Earth Science Division’s Applied Sciences Program advances the use of space-based observations to inform policy and decision makers as they adapt to the impacts of global change and plan for a sustainable future. In 2011, the NASA Research Opportunities for Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES) A.36 solicitation was issued for SERVIR’s first Applied Sciences Team (AST). After a competitive process, eleven proposals were selected as four-year funded efforts to address identified end-user needs in SERVIR hub regions. ROSES 2015 included an Applied Sciences Program solicitation to select a new SERVIR Applied Sciences Team, from which 16 new proposals were selected for three-year efforts beginning in 2016.

The Applied Sciences Team supports SERVIR in developing science applications for international development through the use of Earth observations. Members of the latest SERVIR Applied Sciences Team are working with the hub team members on new projects in SERVIR hub regions: Eastern and Southern Africa, West Africa, the Hindu Kush-Himalaya region, the lower Mekong region of Southeast Asia and the Amazon region. The projects bring the latest in Earth observation and geospatial technologies to bear on regional issues related to agriculture and food security, water resources and hydro climatic disasters, land cover and land use change and ecosystems, and weather and climate. Developed in collaboration with the SERVIR hubs, these projects are also designed to build regional capacity for using these cutting edge tools and data.

Active Applied Science Team projects at SERVIR-E&SA (2020 - 2022)


In-Situ Data Collection with Remote Sensing for Machine Learning Parameter Estimates and Improved Hydrologic Models for Flood, Drought and Agricultural Yield Forecasting

PI - Evan Thomas, Co-I - Jason C Neff, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA.

SERVIR-E&SA Co-I - Calvince Wara, Denis Macharia

Objectives & Activities

Link in-situ data collection tools managed by our team and deployed in East Africa that are currently measuring local rainfall, temperature, groundwater use, and land properties, with remote sensing data sets to develop machine learning supported interpolated data products for localized rainfall, localized temperature, localized groundwater use, forecast groundwater demand, and localized land properties. The combination of the improved, localized rainfall estimates with the Groundwater Use and Demand Forecast Service will support local and national government level drought response planning efforts, such as maintenance of groundwater boreholes, site selection for new boreholes, and pre-positioning of water trucking.

Stakeholders: Kenya National Drought Management Authority, the Ethiopian Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy and regional government partners.

Implementation Partners: Millennium Water Alliance, Sweetsense Inc.

Target Countries: Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda.

Expected Outcomes/Impact: increase regional resilience through improved management of surface and groundwater, and land use planning.


Range monitoring for decision support, pastoral livelihoods and food security in arid and semi-arid East and Southern Africa

PI - Niall Hanan Co-I - Julius Anchang, New Mexico State University, USA.

SERVIR-E&SA Co-I - Lilian Ndung'u, Edward Ouko

Objectives & Activities

Development of range monitoring applications that leverage a previous SERVIR AST project in West Africa, and earlier NASA- and NSF-funded research by the team in West, East and Southern Africa. The project will involve collaborative development (with SERVIR partners and regional stakeholders) of monitoring systems, focused on wet season forage growth and dry season biomass decline. Main activities will include woody canopy cover mapping at ~100 m in E&SA focal countries using a Google Earth Engine application and Sentinel-1 and 2 data (methods already developed as part of our existing West Africa AST project); operationalization of our published leaf area index (LAI) partitioning methodology using data from MODIS/VIIRS LAI at 500m to quantify wet season growth; operationalization of an approach to track dry forage biomass dynamics (based on research in Australian drylands and initial testing of the approach in West Africa) to quantify dry season biomass decline.

Stakeholders: International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), FEWSNET, National Drought Management Authority

Target Countries: Kenya

Expected Outcomes/Impacts: better understanding of rangeland dynamics and woody resources for improved management of forage in rangelands for the benefit of both pastoralists and wildlife conservancies.


Earth Observation for National Agricultural Monitoring

PI- Catherine Nakalembe, Co-Is - Ritvik Sahajpal, Inbal Becker-Reshef, Jan Dempewolf, Christina Justice, University of Maryland, College Park, USA.

SERVIR-E&SA Co-I - Lilian Ndung'u

Objectives & Activities

Building on the strong partnerships and trust with national and regional partners, continue to support application, further development and expansion of Earth Observations (EO) tools for national crop conditions monitoring, yield estimation, modelling and forecasting in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda with the potential to expand to Rwanda and Ethiopia. Main tasks will include mapping status of existing national agricultural monitoring systems, advancing crop yield modelling/mapping and forecasting, automating alert systems in support of risk insurance programs and field data for joint experimentation. Central to the project’s goal is the capacity development and transfer of data and systems developed by and/or with NASA support including the GEOGLAM Crop Monitor for Early Warning, the Early Warning eXplorer that make indices derived from NASA satellites freely accessible globally. The project has strong collaborations with other NASA projects including the NASA Harvest Consortium that aims to enhance the use of satellite data in decision making related to food security and agriculture, NASA Land Use and Land Cover Change and current SERVIR Applied Science Team Projects.

Stakeholders: Kenya State Department of Crop Development and Research, Office of the Prime Minister Uganda, Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries, Uganda, and Ministry of Agriculture, Tanzania, ICPAC, East African Grain Council, FEWSNET.

Target Countries: Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

Expected Outcomes/Impact: increase analysts’ knowledge and skills to use EO based data for reporting and monitoring, improve yield indicators needed for informed responses to food situations and contribute to data-driven decision making. The data products will increase objectivity in decision making and reduce the burden of implementing and managing risk insurance programs.


Using Earth Observations and Statistical Models to Enhance Drought, Food Security, and Agricultural Outlooks in Eastern and Southern Africa

PI - Frank Davenport, Co-Is - Greg Husak, University of California, Santa Barbra, USA; Guleid Artan – ICPAC

SERVIR_E&SA Co-I - Denis Macharia

Objectives & Activities

Build, with East African partners, a user-defined set of Decision Support Tools (DSTs) to integrate existing empirical yield prediction models with Earth Observation (EO) data. These DSTs could be used by key stakeholders to analyze and make early predictions of agricultural yields, production, and other food security outcomes. The tools will help users identify and explore quantitative links between a variety of earth observations and food security indicators and explore outcomes at national and regional scales. This system will empower national and regional analysts by directly relating EO, weather, and climate forecasts to potential grain production outcomes, and can support these activities throughout the growing season. This could be especially useful when early-to-mid season EO observations indicate agricultural issues but are underutilized for early warning. The system will support analysts who need to anticipate end-of-season outcomes, as well as researchers and long-term plannersThe proposed activities will leverage prior SERVIR-funded data services such as the RCMRD instance of the Early Warning eXplorer web mapping service, the Climate Hazards Center’s InfraRed Precipitation with Stations (CHIRPS) and InfraRed Temperature with Stations (CHIRTS) data products.

Stakeholders: ICPAC, FEWSNET, KMD. Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Kenya.

Target Countries: Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda.

Expected Outcomes/Impacts: empower the regional SERVIR Hub (RCMRD) to become a better service provider to Eastern and Southern Africa institutions by facilitating the use of EO and geospatial technologies to enhance food security and agriculture related-decision making; help East African agriculture and food security planners to translate early signals of environmental stress into quantifiable estimates of food availability, thereby enhancing the ability of managers to respond to crop-shortage based food security threats by increasing the timeliness and efficiency of decisions regarding famine response and food aid.


Previous Applied Science Team (AST) Projects – Phase 2, (2016-2019)


Applied Science Team (AST): University of Maryland, USA

AST Activity: Implementing a Regional crop monitor

Target Countries: 10 IGAD countries and National crop monitor for Kenya

Thematic area: Agriculture and Food Security

Activity Description

SERVIR E&SA is working with the AST team from the University of Maryland to implement a regional and national crop monitor. The crop monitors provide an online interface where EO indicators such as NDVI and rainfall can be combined with other food security reports for better assessment of crop conditions.

The Regional crop monitor covers the IGAD region with country focal points reporting monthly crop conditions from which a food security bulletin will be generated and linked to the preseason quarterly climate outlook that is produced during the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum(GHACOF).

At the National level, the implementation of the National Crop monitor for Kenya will be done in collaboration with the State department of agriculture and will allow for reporting of crop conditions at the county level.


Applied Science Team (AST): University of Oklahoma, USA

AST Activity: Forecasting and Communicating Water-Related Disasters in Africa

Target Countries: Kenya and Uganda

Thematic area:  Water and Related Disasters

We are working with AST from the University of Oklahoma on their project titled"Forecasting and Communicating Water-Related Disasters in Africa" under the Water and Related Disasters service area

The main goal of the project is to develop an ensemble hydrologic prediction system (EF5), forced by weather and climate forecasts in a single continuum, to communicate flood forecasts on scales ranging from sub-daily to seasonal and in formats designed for better decision. The team will specifically equip the stakeholders with the skills to process geospatial data and use the tool for flood monitoring. The Applied Science Team work will be piloted for Nzoia Basin in Kenya and one basin in Uganda.

Key stakeholders include Kenya Met Department, Water Resources Management Authority (WRMA), and Ministry of Water and Irrigation in Kenya and Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE), Uganda Met Agency (UMA) and Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) in Uganda


Applied Science Team (AST): University of California Santa Barbara, USA

AST Activity: Enhancing Climate Services by increasing access to remote sensing and model datasets

Target Countries: Kenya

Thematic area: Weather and Climate

SERVIR E&SA is working with the Applied Science Team-2 partners (University of California Santa Barbara; University of Maryland; USFS; and The University of Oklahoma) and the SERVIR SCO to provide climate web services in order to enhance the hub’s capacity for climate services. This engagement will provide a platform where users can be able to access climate data sets from the Early Warning Explorer web application that is hosted in the RCMRD website. Some of the data sets available are CHIRPS rainfall, CHIRTS max temperature, WRSI among others. This service falls under weather and climate with applications in agriculture, food security, water resources and disasters.


Applied Science Team (AST): United States Forest Service researcher Sean Healey

AST Activity: Enabling annual Land Cover Mapping across Eastern and Southern Africa

Target Countries:  Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia and Zambia.

Thematic area:  Land Use Land Cover and Ecosystem

This project is being implement by United States Forest Service researcher Sean Healey in collaboration with the SERVIR Eastern and Southern Africa hub, Google, Silva Carbon and Oregon State University. Its main objective is to leverage the entire archive off Landsat imagery through the Google earth engine to be able to track annual land cover changes.

Locally developed reference data is be used to calibrate a model that optimally integrates the output maps from each separate algorithm. This strategy was developed under an inter-agency, national change mapping project in the United States: the Landscape Change Monitoring System (LCMS). 

The output and capacity building activities of this project responds to the needs of the region in utilizing methods that are robust at the same time delivering accurate and timelier results. Countries covered by the project include: Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia and Zambia.


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