The SERVIR Project: Serving International Communities with Critical Earth Observation Data

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Map showing distribution of official organizations using EO data in the OBSERVE Balkan countries.

The SERVIR Program using satellite imagery of flooding in Pakistan that is shared amongst decision makers to formulate policy responses. Photo source: SERVIR

The SERVIR program, a joint project of NASA and USAID,åÊ is named after the Spanish word meaning ‰ÛÏto serve‰Û, and it is doing exactly that; it provides web-based satellite images and other data to scientists, environmental managers, and decision makers. With this data being made ready and available, policy choices can be made regarding climate change, biodiversity, flooding, forest fires, and storms by addressing the variability of these issues.










NASA's Charles Bolden and USAID's Rajiv Shah shake hands after agreeing to a 5-year memorandum of understanding. Photo Source: SERVIR


On April 25, 2011, NASA’s administrator Charles Bolden and USAID’s administrator Rajiv Shah met to agree on a 5 year memorandum of understanding to address and assist global disasters primarily in Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, and the Himalayas. Endorsed by the Central American and African governments, NASA’s SERVIR program aims to use scientific findings to support the formation of policies affecting climate change, health, agriculture, environment, water, and weather. By using satellite observations, ground based data, and forecast models, this project will be able to help overcome global challenges such as food security, climate change, energy, and environment management. NASA’s SERVIR places strong emphasis on ‰ÛÏpartnerships to fortify the availability of searchable and viewable earth observations, measurements, animations, and analysis.‰Û

The agreement between NASA and USAID to work together on SERVIR allows developing regions to use data gathered by NASA to focus on the issues described above. For example, when extreme floods covered Panama in 2007, President Martin Torrijos contacted Senior Scientist Emil Cherrington of SERVIR partner Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and The Caribbean (CATHALAC) for help. CATHALAC then provided President Torrijos with Earth Observation information that warned Panama to be on high alert for landslides in Bocas del Torro and Veraguas, and suggested that preparations be made for a possible evacuation.

To obtain this critical Earth Observation information, Cherrington tapped into data generated by geosynchronous and polar orbiting satellites funded by NASA and NOAA, as well as remote sensing and in situ data, all of which were sent to SERVIR’s website. This data was then displayed as images of weather patterns of the Mesoamerican region that were interpreted by scientists to predict the possibility of a natural disaster. Once they realized that a natural disaster could in fact occur, they had ample time to warn Panama’s citizens.

Imagery of flooding in Panama provided through the SERVIR program. Photo Source: NASA

SERVIR is not only a helpful tool in predicting weather; according to NASA, it can also ‰ÛÏmonitor wildfires, floods, volcanoes, harmful algal blooms and other long-term ecological challenges.” An exceptional feature is a program called SERVIR VIZ, which is similar to Google Earth. The data used by SERVIR VIZ is presented by the U.S. Geological Survey. Panama has been using this program to broadcast weather patterns on its morning news shows. Panama’s CATHALAC has a partnering center in Kenya called the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) that also works closely with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.



The relationship between NASA and USAID has been in effect since 2003. During that time, the agencies also cooperated on the LAUNCH program. The purpose of the LAUNCH program, which involves a 5-person team from USAID and NASA, is to help market technologies that aid different sustainabilityefforts throughout the world. Charles Bolden states in a NASA article, “Technologies for NASA missions have long improved life here on Earth. Together with USAID, we’ll meet even more sustainable development challenges here on the ground, solving problems for the world community. As we explore space, we’ll also be exploring solutions to important health, nutritional and safety challenges in developing countries.”



Fires represented by red squares in Guatemala and Mexico on April 10th, 2005. Photo source: Earth Observatory

Guatemala is a case study of how NASA’s SERVIR program supports sustainability and crisis management. In the last few years, devastating fires have ravaged the country repeatedly; with no national geospatial management system to impede or prevent these fires, it has been difficult to predict and manage outbreaks. The SIGMA-1 (Geospatial Information System for Fire Management) was developed by NASA, USAID, and CATHALAC to address this urgent issue.åÊ SIGMA-1 is composed of four components: a Fire Atlas, a pattern analysis and ignition cause model, a dynamic fire risk evaluation system, and a synthesis. SERVIR and SIGMA-I research scientist Africa Flores points out in a NASA feature on SERVIR and Guatemala, “One of the success stories of the SIGMA-I project is how much the country was able to do using satellite-based information through an interagency cooperation. With USAID support, SERVIR provided seed funding to develop a high-tech system to monitor Guatemala’s natural resources. This project currently represents one of the most advanced systems to monitor and evaluate forest fires in Mesoamerica and the Caribbean.”






For more information regarding SERVIR:

SERVIR Supports Fire Management System in Guatemala

NASA And USAID Pledge To Advance International Development With Science And Technology



NASA Public Affairs