This is kinda cool, as a possible means to track human migration and perhaps infectious disease risk — satellite tracking of light emissions.
Lights in Niger
The disease outbreak idea here seems like a bit of a stretch, I have to say.
What these researchers are tracking are population levels based on light output. From the population density, they infer the risk of disease outbreaks. I would think a more reliable diagnosis will still be best obtained by health workers on the ground. But who knows? Read for yourself.
From Princteon University:
Princeton University-led researchers report in the journal Science Dec. 9 that nighttime-lights imagery presents a new tool for pinpointing disease hotspots in developing nations by revealing the population boom that typically coincides with seasonal epidemics. In urban areas with migratory populations, the images can indicate where people are clustering by capturing the expansion and increasing brightness of lighted areas. The researchers found the technique accurately indicates fluctuations in population density — and thus the risk of epidemic — that can elude current methods of monitoring outbreaks.
Researchers at McGill University have mapped out the longer-term impact of climate change on human health and well-being.
If populations continue to increase at the expected rates, the McGill researchers report, those who are likely to be the most vulnerable to climate change are the people living in low-latitude, hot regions of the world, places like central South America, the Arabian Peninsula and much of Africa.
In these areas, a relatively small increase in temperature will have serious consequences on a region’s ability to sustain a growing population. Here’s a direct link to the map (below is screen grab):
Human vulnerability to climate change
On a related note, here’s a recent post from my NPR colleague Heather Goldstone at Climatide providing “Two reasons why climate change could be bad for your health.”
One of the reasons is that it could increase bacterial outbreaks, as Heather notes appears to be happening with cholera worldwide. As I’ve noted before, there are some (though a minority) of scientists who believe Haiti’s cholera outbreak was fueled by climate change. The medical community is not trained to think of environmental contributors to human disease, but climate change may require a more interdisciplinary approach.