NASA to Fight Locusts

Strange as it may sound, scientists are getting satellites to figure out where locusts are hatching in order to eradicate them before they start swarming.

A desert locust swarm can eat as much food as 30,000 people in a single day - and right now, swarms of biblical proportions are devouring crops across East Africa and the Middle East. It's the worst locust plague in decades.

In places where millions are already very worried about where their next meal is coming from, reducing or eliminating outbreaks of this crop guzzling predator is crucial. And the solution may lie in space.

NASA is working with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to help East Africa combat its locust problem by using satellite images to figure out where a swarm will hatch before it happens.

Researchers already know what kinds of places that locusts like to choose for their nesting grounds. It's a combination of warm, sandy, moist soil together with an abundance of nearby vegetation - as hoppers aren’t able to go far until their wings develop and therefore need somewhere nearby to eat.

To find areas with abundant healthy vegetation, NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite is helping out. It uses infrared light to determine the health of an area’s vegetation - the more light it reflects, the healthier the greenery. And, to track down areas with the right amount of moisture, data collected by NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System is providing the necessary information.

Putting these two sets of satellite data together, researchers are now expecting to be able to determine where locusts will hatch and go there early to “destroy their nesting grounds.”

A lot of farmers in affected regions have their fingers firmly crossed.