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Tue, 01 Jun 2021 14:00 EDT

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season starts today, June 1. At NASA, we’re developing new technology and missions to study storm formation and impacts, including ways to understand Earth as a system.

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Thu, 06 May 2021 10:00 EDT

Valley fever is a dangerous threat to human health – and cases are on the rise in the arid southwestern United States, as wind from increasing dust storms can transport the fungal spores that cause the disease. Valley fever is caused by the Coccidioides fungus, which grows in dirt and fields and can cause fever, rash and coughing. Using NASA resear

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Fri, 23 Apr 2021 11:00 EDT

In a decade filled by record-breaking events including raging wildfires, numerous hurricanes, unseasonal flooding and historically cold temperatures, NASA has continued to learn more about how the planet is changing and the effect it has on Earth’s systems.

MODIS Data Used to Identify Source of Fungus Carried by Dust Storms that Cause Valley Fever

Valley Fever is caused by the Coccidioides fungus, which grows in dirt and fields. The fungus, when inhaled, can cause fever, rash and coughing. Dust storms in the Southwestern United States carry these spores in the air, where they can be inhaled and cause illness.

Supported by NASA’s Health and Air Quality (HAQ), NASA researcher Daniel Tong, an associate professor at George Mason University, and his team are studying the impact of dust storms in the southwest U.S on the spread of Valley fever. Using a novel, yet simple technique, Tongs team catches dust using cake pans and marbles. The dust is tested for the Coccidioides fungus. Their research “combines this data with NASA satellite data and high-end computer modeling to enhance current forecasting and surveillance activities related to dust storms and the airborne spread of Valley fever across the southwestern states.” 

Mentions of Terra from NASA articles
NASA Applied Science – Dust Storms, Valley Fever… and Cake Pans

“The on-the-ground measurements were combined with Earth observations from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments aboard the NASA satellites Terra and Aqua. These satellites monitor vegetation and soil moisture, which can reveal where conditions are ripe for the growth of Coccidioides and the spread of arid dust. MODIS instruments also help track dust storms’ spread by detecting the light reflected from the tiny particles as they are swept across the country. The team also used these data to help “train” their models that assessed long-term trends of dust storms in the region.”

“Tong and his team are combining NASA satellite data and high-end computer modeling with homemade dust catchers made of pans for baking cakes and marbles.” 

nasa.gov – Dust Storms and Valley Fever in the American West

“While the team gathers data on the ground, NASA satellites are hard at work getting the view from above. Tong’s team uses data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments aboard the NASA satellites Terra and Aqua. These data show likely habitats for this fungus because they monitor vegetation and soil moisture, revealing where conditions are ripe for fungal growth and spread of arid dust”

But tracking dust storms’ movement through air is easier with the help of NASA’s Earth observing instruments – like MODIS – which can also detect the light reflected from the tiny particles as they’re swept across the country. These true color dust observations from MODIS even helped to “train” models developed by the team to assess how the frequency of dust storms is changing.