It is important to think about how climate change will affect food security, water resources, and natural disasters, especially in underdeveloped countries. Dr. Patricia Solis is trying to understand how different communities around the world can anticipate and mitigate the effects of climate change using geospatial technologies like Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing. This is important in developing countries because they are increasingly vulnerable to effects from a changing climate. These developing regions of the world are lacking in spatial information or data, or that information is not easily accessible or publicly available, making it difficult to understand and respond to change. Dr. Solis works closely with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with a focus of strengthening communities’ resilience using open spatial data.

Dr. Solis is the project director of a new program at Texas Tech University that received a $1 million grant from USAID in late 2015 to establish a consortium of universities to create and use open spatial data for resilience. This engages students as leaders in the mapping process under the banner of YouthMappers. YouthMappers are a global community of university students, faculty, and scholars who create and use open geospatial data to assist development challenges worldwide. Texas Tech University, West Virginia University, and George Washington University are founding members of the consortium, which has grown in its first seven months to 27 universities in 11 countries. The goal of YouthMappers is to create geospatial data using OpenStreetMap, which the USAID will directly use to help address needs of vulnerable communities, such as preventing disease, planning for disaster management, and advancing development. The YouthMappers chapter at Texas Tech has about 40 undergraduate and graduate students involved from many different disciplines across campus. Many international students on Texas Tech campus are willing to participate and are able to share deeper knowledge of the project regions because they are from the areas that are affected and identified as a priority for USAID programming. The Texas Tech chapter also connects with other students who live in the areas that are being affected and are helping add attributes to the features that they remotely map. Throughout the academic year the YouthMappers program has held mapathon events where students get together to map data for a particular project. The mapathon event in April 2016 joined five participating universities to help add 17,000 buildings and 5,000 km of road to OpenStreetMap. They also virtually attended a mapathon held at the White House this July, which focused on supporting data for the President’s Malaria Initiative that allows aid organizations like USAID and the Peace Corps to conduct prevention measures against the disease. Dr. Solis was present at the event in Washington, D.C. in person, and led a group of ten YouthMapper students, including one from TTU, to show government officials how they map. With the role of climate variability being exacerbated, leading to an increase of strong storms, heavier rainfalls, extreme droughts, and more forest fires, these extreme climate conditions will change landscapes, buildings, and migration patterns. These students and scholars are making a difference by providing data and research that will assist in aid programming for underdeveloped countries.  

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Photo Credit: YouthMappers.org

Dr. Solis also firmly believes that the use of spatial data is an important skill for students to have to help advance their career. As part of a research class she taught in the Spring semester of 2016, students were divided up into teams working in different geographic locations. Some of these locations included Mozambique, Angola, Ecuador, and Bangladesh. The team mapping Ecuador was originally using GIS to help identify infrastructure like bridges for evacuation planning in the wake of the ash released by Mt. Cotopaxi Volcano near Quito, Ecuador in August 2015. After a recent earthquake in Ecuador, the class joined volunteers worldwide to generate data in near real time to help rescue and recovery workers best support citizens in the region. The team focusing on Mozambique was also identifying infrastructure, roads, and where people live, in order to inform plans to eradicate the mosquito, which causes malaria and especially affects many women and children in the country. The team focused on Bangladesh was identifying fishpond locations, which will be used by the Feed the Future program along with information on stunting and nutritional deficiencies to improve food security. In Angola, TTU students were among the first to openly map Malanje province, in the wake of a 17-year civil war that has rendered it difficult to effectively manage development aid and public services to rural areas.

Prior to her current USAID-supported research program, Dr. Solis has engaged 440 students and scholars from 32 countries in research on climate change using geospatial technologies with support from USAID, NSF, NASA, and the US State Department. As an undergraduate student, Dr. Solis went abroad to Switzerland on a study at the ETH (Federal Institute of Technology in Switzerland) and observed avalanche modeling from remotely sensed imagery. Dr. Solis fell in love with the field and ended up pursuing a Master’s Degree in geography after she received her Bachelor of Physics from Kansas State University. She became engaged with USAID more than a decade ago through her colleague, Carrie Stokes who recently established the GeoCenter within that agency. Dr. Solis came to Texas Tech because of former President and geographer Dr. Duane Nellis and got involved with the TTU Climate Science Center (CSC) at the encouragement of Dr. John Zak (co-director of CSC).

Dr. Solis is currently a research associate professor of geography in the Department of Geosciences, associated with the Climate Science Center, and will be the new co-director of the Center for Geospatial Technology at Texas Tech University in the upcoming Fall semester; she is also senior research associate in the Office of the Vice President for Research on the research development team.

This article was produced by TTU Climate Science Center and originally appeared on the Climate Science Center’s blog on Lubbock Online Avalanche Journal. This article was written by Breanna Allen, Aaron Flores, and Dr. Patricia Solis. 

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