EpidemicsSatellite information helps eradicate mosquitoes

Published 30 March 2011

Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish is partnering with Colorado-based location intelligence software company aWhere, Inc. to test a new satellite-based surveillance system that can locate and analyze potential mosquito breeding sites with near pinpoint accuracy

Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish is partnering with Colorado-based location intelligence software company aWhere, Inc. to test a new satellite-based surveillance system that can locate and analyze potential mosquito breeding sites with near pinpoint accuracy, says district director Charles Palmisano.

The parish’s Mosquito Abatement District is one of twenty-four parishes across the state that has an organized mosquito control program. The Mosquito Abatement Decision Information System (MADIS) will use satellites owned by imaging company DigitalGlobe to locate mosquito larval breeding habitats and activity at a 0.6-meter level of accuracy. This means that each pixel of the image represents 60 centimeters of the area photographed, allowing enough clarity in the image to distinguish between items on the ground and a changing landscape.

Once a particular site is found and then checked by district employees in the field to be a true breeding site, MADIS can scan other areas across the district for locations that produce similar environmental qualities for breeding, Palmisano said.

MADIS will produce images every 10 days of areas that match the pixel signature of images confirmed as mosquito breeding sites. The abatement district can then access the images via an online database formed by aWhere and concentrate mosquito control efforts on those sites, Palmisano said.

We already have a good knowledge of where most breeding sites are, but this will provide us with information on areas we didn’t know about,” Palmisano said. “If you fly over St. Tammany, you get an appreciation of how big the parish really is. This system can save us time.”

Though work is required to check these areas as information comes in, Palmisano said he is sure once the system is working and tested, MADIS could help abatement districts do a better job.

It could open up a whole new methodology in terms of control,” Palmisano said. “Especially in these enormous areas. If we can locate a lot of these breeding sites, we can employ control in those particular areas.”

The St. Tammany abatement district, which has nineteen full-time employees and twenty-three part-time seasonal employees to cover a parish of about 875 square miles, has been working with aWhere since December as part of a pilot group that included California’s Northwest Mosquito and Vector Control District to test a free experimental version of MADIS.

The group has since grown to include five additional districts from California, Utah, Illinois and Florida; chosen to represent the varying urban and rural landscapes mosquito control faces across the nation, said Dr. John Corbett, co-founder of aWhere, Inc.

According to Corbett, the project is currently processing pilot district data and looks for tangible use for these areas by July.


The company hopes that the technology will be in use nationwide by the end of the year, Corbett said.

According to Dr. Robert Novak, a professor and medical entomologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical School and co-founder, along with Corbett, of the MADIS system, there has been a market need for a system with this level of accuracy in finding breeding sites.

Novak said satellites have been used to find mosquito-breeding sites in the past, but never below the sub-meter level the MADIS project is using.

This can raise the level of mosquito control, not only a couple of notches, but several magnitudes,” Novak said.

This ability for a sub-meter view of sites producing larvae will allow districts to save money and promote environmental responsibility by significantly reducing the amount of pesticide used to spray areas that do not contain breeding areas or employing a “nuclear weapon approach, and spraying the entire area,” Novak said.

David Lundberg, aWhere Chief Operating Officer, said research and development for MADIS is complete and the company is scaling up to include more districts. The goal is to tailor a system specific to different districts and their environments.

Pricing for MADIS has not been set yet, but will be based on usage and value to the specific district, Lundberg said.

Palmisano said the St. Tammany district, whose operations cost $4.3 million in 2010, is currently determining if MADIS will be cost effective to subscribe to in the future.

Once the system has been proven, Corbett and Novak said they hope to adapt the system to track and combat malaria in Africa; a cause both said inspired them to start the MADIS project last June.

This is a convergence of technology from DigitalGlobe leadership and the thought platform from (Novak) and his team,” Corbett said. “We hope this can make a big difference in the standard of human life.”