Ryan Young: Honey bees are vital component to global agriculture.
They contribute $15 billion dollars annually to the United States economy,
are the third most important livestock, and help promote
the health of urban vegetation.
More 90% of crops are visited and pollinated from this species.
Think about it this way, a third of the food on
your plate could be lost without honey bees.
Their success is crucial for our livelihoods; however, their
populations have been dwindling and it’s about time we get to
the bottom of it.
Scientists have pondered the drivers of their health for years.
Some of the environmental factors impacting their success
and failure include vegetation and chemical inputs from
agriculture, urbanization of natural landscapes, climate change, and invasive pests.
Now it’s time to solve this problem from space.
Eyob Solomon: Wait, what?
Ryan: Hang tight, we’ll get there.
In an effort to address these issues in an innovative way, we created a tool
using Google Earth Engine to leverage satellite data.
We looked at the most recent trends from January 2016 through May of 2018 in both urban and
In addition, with the help of our project partners, we able to incorporate citizen science
data related to unique hive conditions provided by
Ryan: So Kelly, tell us what’s going on with honey bees.
Kelly Kulhanek: So, since about 2007, there’s been a lot of concern
regarding the state of honey bees.
So, commercial beekeepers all over the country started reporting
really intense levels of losses where the worker population in their colonies was
just completely vanishing.
And this really sounded the alarm for researchers to sort of step in and start investigating
what was going on.
So, this large scale satellite data that NASA DEVELOP is helping us use is really going
to enable us to make large scale correlations about the
factors we’re seeing in honey bees and the physical interactions that they’re having
with their landscapes.
Ryan: This project incorporated Landsat and Sentinel-2 images used to measure
vegetation health and water content in leaves.
We used the Cropland Data Layer to calculate percentage
of land cover, and components of the NASA Earth Observation System to determine precipitation,
elevation, and soil moisture relative to individual hives.
The development of this tool further reveals the environmental factors
affecting honey bee populations.
We hope that being able to incorporate this satellite data into future
research will create a more robust understanding of how we can ensure a healthy future for honey
So next time you go swatting that nuisance, make sure to consider
the implications of your mild inconvenience.