Earth-observing satellites have provided an unprecedented view of the land surface but have been exploited relatively little for the measurement of environmental variables of particular relevance to epidemiology. Recent advances in techniques to recover continuous fields of air temperature, humidity, and vapour pressure deficit from remotely sensed observations have significant potential for disease vector monitoring and related epidemiological applications. We report on the development of techniques to map environmental variables with relevance to the prediction of the relative abundance of disease vectors and intermediate hosts. Improvements to current methods of obtaining information on vegetation properties, canopy and surface temperature and soil moisture over large areas are also discussed. Algorithms used to measure these variables incorporate visible, near-infrared and thermal infrared radiation observations derived from time series of satellite-based sensors, focused here primarily but not exclusively on the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) instruments. The variables compare favourably with surface measurements over a broad array of conditions at several study sites, and maps of retrieved variables captured patterns of spatial variability comparable to, and locally more accurate than, spatially interpolated meteorological observations. Application of multi-temporal maps of these variables are discussed in relation to current epidemiological research on the distribution and abundance of some common disease vectors.
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