I can hear you think: "really, so you're an experts on zika as well?". Well, no. I am not. No idea how the virus that is now pandemic causes it's symptoms. Or how it actually transfers its RNA from mosquitos to humans. What I do know, from the news, is that zika is transfered to humans from infected mosquitos. From Bart Knols public lectures I know that mosquitos like warm, moist places to lay their eggs.
So if we know, or can predict, which places will be warm and moist, we can predict where mosquitos will flourish. Both knowing (measuring) and predicting which places will be wet, and which will be dry is what my research is about.
The TAHMO project aims to install 20.000 weather stations in sub saharan Africa, turning it into the most densely monitored continent. Why? Just watch this 1:30 video
In the video, we explain the importance to African farmers. However, many more segments of society will benefit from the data collected by the TAHMO stations. During an outbreak of a mosquito borne disease, like zika, but also malaria, you want to know where it is moist and warm at the same time. The TAHMO stations can provide just that information.
As soon as you know where it is warm and moist, thus where mosquitos are, you are basically too late. Ideally, you want to predict where it will be warm and moist in a few days, so you can send your prevention teams with mosquito repellent to critical locations. For this you need both a good weather forecast that will tell you how much rain will fall en how warm and moist it is going to be, but you also need a hydrological model to tell you how wet the soil is going to be, given the weather forecast. Current global operational hydrological models use pixels of order 100 by 100 km. They only provide one average value of soil moisture for a 10.000 square kilometer area. At Delft University, together with the Netherlands eScienceCenter and Utrecht University we have developed the eWaterCycle model that uses 10 by 10 km pixels. The main goal we had with eWaterCycle was showing that it is technically, computationally feasible to run global models at such a high resolution. eWaterCycle predicts two very important things:
Discharge: the amount of water in all the rivers of the world. This helps predict floods (and droughts) up to a week in advance.
Soil moisture: the wetness of the top-soil and thus the ideal places for mosquitos to live. Also, very important for farmers to know.
See the idea behind the eWaterCycle project in this 5 minute dramatized video.
At this point, I have to stress that water information alone will never be enough to combat a mosquito borne outbreak. Information on soil wetness will be used by mosquito- and disease-experts like Barts Knols and the experts working at the World Health Organization, to combine with their knowledge to make optimal decision in combatting outbreaks. The eWaterCycle project predicts where soils will be wet and thus where mosquitos might live, where zika can flourish. But to do that eWaterCycle needs accurate information on current soil wetness and an accurate weather forecast. That is exactly the information that the TAHMO project will provide. Together these project will help us to battle future outbreaks of diseases like zika. And also help farmers to improve their yields and predict floods.