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Thoughts on being a SEES Mosquito Habitat Mapper

Alissa S. is a high school student from New Jersey. She is currently participating in the 2021 STEM Enhancement in the Earth Sciences Mosquito Habitat Mapper summer research intern cohort.

Hi! My name is Alissa, and I’m an intern at the NASA SEES Earth Explorers/Mosquito Mappers internship. At this internship, we do research, and that research is based on GLOBE Land Cover and Mosquito Mapper data that we collect. One of the major projects in the internship is to make five mosquito traps and experiment with those traps (by varying one characteristic throughout the traps), logging each mosquito observation into the GLOBE Observer app. However, we started with one initial trap. I live in New Jersey, specifically in an area that is next to many trees. My initial
hypothesis was that the first trap, which I put by a bush in the right corner of my backyard, would have many mosquitoes on it. A week later, I checked up on my trap and was shocked to find a grand total of 0 mosquito observations. How could this be? I live in an ideal spot for mosquitoes due to the number of trees and other growth in the area, so I was quite surprised to have no observations to report. I told my mother about it since she’s interested in science and research as well, and slowly but surely, we started to form a theory. With my mother’s help, I ruled out the possibility of something wrong with my trap or anything in the experiment setup. She told me that this lack of mosquitoes in our backyard is not new information to her- usually, when she is outside somewhere else, she gets bitten by mosquitoes often. Still, she rarely ever gets bitten in our backyard. I noticed something strange about my own experiences as well. At our previous home in a neighboring town, which is surrounded by similar vegetation, it was common for me to get mosquito bites. I don’t know why, but mosquitoes loved me. One time, I went to sleep during the summer and woke up with a whopping six new mosquito bites. However, I have never been in such a situation here in our new home. On occasion, I’ll get bites, but not nearly at the same frequency. This situation was so strange to me- I still feel like I am some kind of detective trying to solve a mystery. What precisely about our new house was driving these mosquitoes away?

My mother and I finally came up with a theory. We live next to an assisted living facility. The facility owns the land close to our backyard, so we thought the facility might be spraying insecticide on the grass. That insecticide could be traveling through the air and onto our backyard. To test this theory, I made four more mosquito traps and set those out throughout different parts of our town, in varying proximity from the assisted living facility. Toward the end of my internship, I will see a correlation between the distance from land owned by the assisted living facility and the number of mosquitoes in each trap. If there truly is a correlation, this experiment can tell us a lot about the airborne spread of insecticide and act as a warning of the effects of insecticide usage.

In addition to our individual mosquito trap experiments, we also partake in group research projects based on GLOBE Mosquito Mapper/Land Cover data. Currently, we are in the brainstorming phase of these projects- we are all generating ideas on what we want to investigate and which data we will use. When I started brainstorming, my first baseline idea was to examine how the California wildfires have impacted mosquito populations in places where these fires have occurred. I expanded this idea to include any natural disaster- it didn’t have to be wildfires. Some other ideas I had for natural disasters to investigate were the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallaj kull and the recent freezing over of Texas. The mentors have been so helpful, especially in the brainstorming stage. For example, I switched my idea from using Mosquito Mapper data to Land Cover data simply because there is more past data available for the latter. I would not have known that information if not for my mentors, who have been eager to help out or answer any questions.

I’m grateful for the guidance of my mentors throughout the SEES internship. It’s nice to meet people who know so much about this field of research and about NASA itself. It is clear that the mentors have put so much time and effort into making this internship the most educational experience that it can be. The mentors are also very accommodating and understanding of our schedules. Many of the Earth Explorers/Mosquito Mappers interns are also balancing other commitments this summer, including myself. The mentors have made sure that the internship’s schedule is flexible enough for those commitments. All in all, I am pretty excited to see what becomes of my mosquito trap experiment and my idea for the group research project!

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