Africa Flores-Anderson uses NASA technology to help save Guatemala’s polluted water sources. By studying satellite images, this scientist hopes to save Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán. (Image credit: Science Friday)


Guatemala is just one of many countries suffering from polluted waters. Scientist and Guatemalan native Africa Flores-Anderson decided to use her access to satellite maps from space to monitor environmental changes in underserved communities.


After moving back to western Guatemala and seeing the healthy rivers, lakes, and forests in the area, Flores-Anderson was inspired to figure out how to use and collect data from space satellites to promote sustainability in underserved areas. “From space, I can see the forest and the condition of that forest, and I can see the river and the water quality of that river,” she says. “It completely revolutionized my world of the work I was doing.”


Working for SERVIR, a collaborative project between NASA and USAID, Flores-Anderson is able to see forests and rivers from a satellite image and use it to determine the condition of the areas just from studying the image. Flores-Anderson and her team map the surface and changes of a specified area using parameters, such as optical sensors, 3D Topography, and all-weather radar, which can see through clouds. This data helps decision-makers predict future risks, visualize fire, industrial, or disaster damage, and determine the allocation of development funds.


In addition to this, Flores-Anderson received funding to monitor the water quality of Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán. The lake is typically known for its crystal-clear waters, but in 2009 the lake was suddenly hit with algal blooms – the rapid growth of cyanobacteria in the water. With the satellite data, Flores-Anderson can map the levels of cyanobacteria in the lake over time, along with finding correlations with agricultural activity on the lake’s banks.


Flores-Anderson and her team hope to use the information to not only find a way to save the lake but to promote awareness of water cleanliness and how every choice we make has an effect on the quality of the lake. For this scientist, this is the greatest way she can help her homeland.



Have a story tip? Message me at: