Innovating in Earth observation techniques is key to prevent epidemics caused by mosquitoes

The researcher John R.B. Palmer has traveled this week to the United States to explain the data collection and processing system of the Mosquito Alert project to the “Vector and Waterborne Disease Workshop”. In this global meeting, organized by The Wilson Centre and NASA, several experts related to the environment, meteorology and Earth observation techniques have participated.

John Palmer fent la xerrada a The Wilson Centre, Washington DC. Foto: NASA Precipitation

John Palmer giving the talk at The Wilson Centre, Washington DC. Photo: NASA Precipitation


Vector-borne diseases are responsible for 17% of cases of global infectious diseases. Many of these vectors are insects such as flies, fleas and especially mosquitoes. To deal with these emerging epidemiological cases it is important to know the environmental conditions that can cause the emergence of these vectors in different parts of the world. The data collected by NASA are useful to study these environmental conditions, but there are still scientists who do not know it.

The researcher John R.B. Palmer from Pompeu Fabra University, has made a presentation within the citizen science and dissemination panel to explain an innovative method of collecting global data. During his talk, Palmer explained how the Mosquito Alert team manages the collection of tiger mosquito and yellow fever mosquito data, combining the information that comes from citizen participation and that obtained with traditional methods. In fact, last October the team demonstrated through a study published in Nature Communications that both techniques are equally reliable and, in addition, with citizen participation, the cost of surveying in the territory is reduced up to eight times.

The conference “Vector-Borne and Water-Related Disease Workshop” is organized by The Wilson Center and the NASA’s Precipitation Measurement Missions Group. The Wilson Center and Mosquito Alert are part of the Global Mosquito Alert Consortium, together with the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA).


See the presentation of John Palmer below:


Pioneering UN Backed, Citizen Led Alliance against Mosquito Borne Diseases Joins Global Fight to Save 2.7 Million Lives Every Year

Initiative Empowers National Networks, Stakeholders and Governments to Generate and Access Real-time Data and Tools through UN Electronic Platform ‘Environment Live”.

Miembros participantes de la reunión a la sede de las Naciones Unidas (Ginebra).

Participants of the meeting at United Nations in Geneva. Frederic Bartumeus, John Palmer and Roger Eritja assisted as members of Mosquito Alert.


A new alliance of citizen-science organisations and UN Environment will be launched, Monday, in an effort to escalate the global fight against mosquito-borne diseases, responsible for killing close to 2.7 million people annually, mostly in Africa and Latin America. Overall mosquito borne cases are estimated at 500 million every year.

The new initiative, launched under the name ‘Global Mosquito Alert’, brings together thousands of scientists and volunteers from around the world to track and control mosquito borne viruses, including Zika, yellow fever, Chikungunya, dengue, malaria and the West Nile virus. It is the first global platform dedicated to citizen science techniques to tackle the monitoring of mosquito populations. The programme is expected to move forward as a collaboration involving the European, Australian and American Citizen Science Associations as well as the developing citizen science community in Southeast Asia.

Agreement to launch the initiative was reached at a two-day workshop that took place in Geneva earlier this month, organised by UN Environment, the Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program (STIP), and the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA).

Director of Science at UN Environment, Jacqueline McGlade, said, “The Global Mosquito Alert will offer for the first time a shared platform to leverage citizen science for the global surveillance and control of disease-carrying mosquitos. It is a unique infrastructure that is open for all to use and may be augmented with modular components and implemented on a range of scales to meet local and global research and management needs.”

She added, “The programme will offer the benefit of the millions spent in developing existing mosquito monitoring projects to local citizen science groups around the world.  Opportunities to keep these citizen-led initiatives at the cutting edge of science will now depend on securing major funding to support the ongoing programme development and its promotion to millions of people world-wide.”

Los miembros de la iniciativa se reunieron durante dos días en Ginebra.

The members of the initiative were on a two-days meeting, lead by the Mosquito Task & Finish Group from ECSA.


The Global Mosquito Alert will be supported by a consortium of data and information providers, coordinated through Environment Live, the dynamic UN knowledge platform, designed to collect, process and share the world’s best environmental science and research. Built and maintained by UN Environment, the platform provides real-time open data access to policy makers and the general public, using distributed networks, cloud computing, big data and improved search functions.

The consortium includes: Mosquito Alert, Spain; MosquitoWEB Portugal; Zanzamapp in Italy; Muggenradar in the Netherlands; the Globe Observer Mosquito Habitat Mapper, USA/International and the Invasive Mosquito Project USA.

The information displayed on Environment Live will allow managers to mitigate risk and reduce health threats while opening up an opportunity for concerned citizens to contribute their mosquito observations and possible solutions.  Citizen data will augment information already available from Government public health sources.

The new consortium has agreed to share current approaches to monitor the spread of key mosquito species and their breeding sites, and to measure the nuisance value of the citizen mosquito experience to support health risk management.  The group also agreed to pool knowledge and experience on citizen science programmes to monitor mosquito species using the latest DNA identification techniques.

What is citizen science?

Citizens often complain that science is out of their reach. Complex formulas, algorithms, numbers, and graphs at a level of comprehension which is very far from the understanding of most people. It can be hard to understand the usefulness and application of some experiments, and sometimes the language is difficult to understand. Fortunately, there is a phenomenon which is becoming increasingly popular worldwide and allows citizens to participate in the scientific process on a voluntary basis: citizen science.

Important discoveries have been made thanks to citizen science projects. For example, the project “foldit” asked citizens to resolve protein puzzles; in this effort, citizens reconstructed the structure of a protein which had been the subject of 15 years of research. In another project, “Planet Hunters” astronomy amateurs discovered new planets belonging to other solar systems and galaxies, called exoplanets.

The development of new technologies has facilitated such connections between scientists and the general public, allowing the conjoined development of policies and their application, addressing many challenges faced by society.

The citizen is a key component of Mosquito Alert research

According to Scyphers et al. 2014, “citizen participation and the use of new technologies can speed up detection of invasive species by up to two years compared with traditional methods.” Mosquito Alert has revolutionized tiger mosquito monitoring and control systems with new technologies which allow massive data gathering. Together with other monitoring networks, the project has achieved early detection of the tiger mosquito in new areas; this is necessary so that public administrations can activate the necessary environmental and public health protocols. It is also helping managers improve control and monitoring of mosquito populations in communities where it is already established. Beginning this year, it will also be possible to detect the possible arrival of the yellow fever mosquito to Spain: this is the mosquito responsible for the current Zika epidemic.

Video of the General Assembly of the ECSA in Barcelona (2015):

The ten commandments of citizen science

Europe has a network for citizen science, including projects, research institutes, universities, museums, and other institutions and individuals from more than 20 EU countries, Switzerland, and the United States: this is the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) whose members work together with the objective of connecting citizens and science via active participation. The work group “Sharing best practices and building capacity” has put together 10 principles of citizen science, written by members of the association and the Natural History Museum London.


Mosquito Alert puts itself on display for international experts in citizen science

The third meeting of ECSA (European Citizen Science Association) brought together a hundred attendees and a large variety of citizen science projects from around the world. and Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB) participated in the Citizen Science Safari to show their work to the attendees.

Over three days from Wednesday October 28th through Friday October 30th, around 100 people from Europe, Australia, the United States, and Latin America joined in the activities of the Third General Meeting of the European Association for Citizen Science (ECSA), which took place in Barcelona. “This has been an opportunity to learn about different projects from all around the world and exchange experiences with representatives of the European Union,” said Frederic Bartemus, director of

The members of the team are confident that this international encounter will help to strengthen citizen science.

“Citizen science makes it possible to get people involved in a scientific project by making them observers,” explains Aitana Oltra, project coordinator. According to John Palmer, developer and data analyst, “this is a good way to get a large sampling of scientific data, and this is very useful for studying this insect.”

The safari, the star event

Wednesday afternoon the participants divided into groups and headed towards Barcelona’s Parc de la Ciutadella to get involved in projects first hand. team members and technicians from the Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB) carried out a demonstration of their work by simulating a citizen alert of tiger mosquito and breeding site using the Mosquito Alert app.

The participants followed instructions in order to send a report using Tigatrapp and later they observed the tools and methodology used by the technicians in order to detect the larvae and apply treatments. “The reports that we get from the application help us detect the tiger mosquito breeding risk areas in Barcelona. The Parc de la Cituadella, for example, is one of those areas”, explained Lídia Fernández, ASPB technician.

Citizen science on the table

The event also featured debates about the main challenges facing citizen science, thematic talks, project presentations, and workshops. According to Josep Perelló, coordinator of the Citizen Science Office of Barcelona Laboratori (BCNLab), who participated in the organization of the meeting, “we want institutions and universities to understand that citizen science is important for society since it enables people to contribute to research in an active and real manner.”

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Mosquito Alert coordinators