“This ten-week program has opened my eyes to how we can use Earth Observations to benefit our society,” says Sonam Choden, a Bhutanese college student working with NASA DEVELOP’s summer internship program.

Throughout the program’s first launch this summer, students from Thimphu to Gelephug studying in the United States teamed up with NASA scientists to learn about satellite technology, coding, and scientific research. This first-of-its-kind team formed two groups to study contemporary issues in Bhutan based on recommendations and ongoing assistance from the Bhutan Foundation and our partners. By the summer’s end, both teams produced original research with real-world benefits by modeling Asian elephant habitats and assessing trends in precipitation and temperature to inform climate mitigation practices in Bhutan.

The Asian Elephant group produced and used land cover maps to create an elephant habitat suitability model, showing the importance of roads and waterways to the occurrence of elephants and showing the best places for camera traps to aid future research. In just two weeks following the conclusion of their study, leaders from the Nature Conservation Division under the Department of Parks and Forest Services were able to use the students’ data from NASA’s equipment to support their case for an international elephant habitat zone during a conservation conference in India.

Meanwhile, the Water Resource research group provided a trend analysis of precipitation from 1996 to 2017 and reviewed temperature changes in the region. Interestingly, the team found that the satellite data suggests spring is arriving later and later each year in Bhutan, which could have significant effects on agriculture yields. This information and data will be used by the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research’s (UWICER’s) climate change research team to support their ongoing work with the Himalayan Environmental Rhythm Observation and Evaluation System (HEROES) project. 

Sonam Choden and eight other students completed the summer program gaining skills in not only scientific data research, but also in communications, working with a team of colleagues remotely from their homes, and much more. NASA DEVELOP’s next cohort in this three-year partnership will continue the research these students started in spring 2021.

Check out more articles like this one in Remote Not Removed: Bhutan Foundation Annual Report 2020.