Guest Scientist Blog by Kenan Arica, NASA JPL Summer Intern
Mosquitoes are vectors for diseases such as malaria, dengue, Zika, Rift Valley fever, West Nile virus, chikungunya and other diseases. Unfortunately, climate change is expected to make the spread of mosquito-borne diseases worse. This summer, I did some exploratory research to see if we could combine the power of GLOBE citizen science data and social media to learn about where mosquitoes are found.
This summer I worked with the GLOBE Observer Mosquito Habitat Mapper (MHM) data. To ensure we get the highest quality of citizen science data, I cleaned the data set and wrote code to capture nearby tweets to independently confirm GLOBE observations.
One of the most important things I learned this summer is how important social media data can be. I set up a Twitter scraper, which is a tool that sends me tweets from search terms in real time. My search terms were ‘mosquito’, ‘malaria’, ‘dengue’, ‘Zika’, ‘Rift Valley fever’, and other vector-borne diseases. Only 1-4% of tweets have latitude and longitude location information. These tweets are ‘geotagged’. I filter GLOBE observations and tweets that are within seven days of each other, due to the short life cycle of mosquitoes. I built a tool to automatically match MHM observations and geotagged tweets that are within a week of each other, within 50 km, and tweets that have a geotagged region less than 50 km2. MHM observations were labeled ‘confirmed’, ‘possible’, or ‘unknown’ based on these three factors for tweets. The figure below is an example of two ‘confirmed’ GLOBE Observer MHM reports of mosquito presence inside a twitter polygon.
I found my exploratory summer research to be a great proof-of-concept. On average, two to three matches and few ‘possible’ and ‘confirmed’ labeled matches come in per day. I expect more matches to come in as the popularity of the MHM tool grows. I think this research is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the usage of social media data for corroborating GLOBE observations.
Spending a summer at JPL really was a dream come true. I would’ve never imagined working here, but life can be very surprising. Everybody I’ve interfaced with, whether in person or remotely, has been absolutely lovely and kind. I’ll never forget my time working with NASA, and it has shown me how important it is to work hard for what you want.