USRA’s Dr. Eleanor Stokes, senior scientist at the Earth from Space Institute, served as a contributing author to the prestigious biennial United Nations Global Assessment Report (GAR), released recently. Working with an international team of authors charged to review and assess the state of science and practice to date around disaster risk and resilience, Dr. Stokes contributed to several pieces of the report on how big data can lead to better decision-making around systemic risk.

The GAR findings cite the Black Marble—a nighttime lights satellite product jointly led by NASA and USRA science teams—as key to helping address two issues cited in the report: lower quality monitoring over less resourced geographies and lack of historically archived data.

Dr. Stokes leads the Black Marble’s science team at USRA and is working on several projects that will help move the ball forward for disaster science. 

Black Marble researchers have been pioneers in the creation of high-quality global datasets to assist with disaster risk and reduction, and even long-term economic relief after a disruption. For example, during the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has monitored how the activity levels inside individual cities across the globe have initially plummeted, and then rebounded in response to different phases of the pandemic. This data is correlated with human mobility and economic activity, and is one of the few datasets that illuminates how the pandemic has impacted patterns of life in less resourced, data poor areas. 

The team’s recent publication in Scientific Reports discusses how this data can be incorporated in epidemiological models to understand the reactions of society to different policy measures. Stokes emphasizes that “Satellite data on disasters becomes even more powerful when fused with other types of ground-collected data. We can only see direct changes from space, but to make connections between places, and to understand the factors that influence recovery rates, we have to talk to people,” she says. 

One of Dr. Stokes’ on-going projects, funded through NASA’s land use/land change program, assesses how climate change in the Mediterranean Basin creates interconnected risks that impact the domains of ecosystems, food, and human health and safety all at once.

“Studies have historically thought about disaster impacts from the lens of one major event, one moment in time, happening in one place, and yielding one type of impact,” Stokes says, “but disasters don’t happen in a vacuum like that”. Her study will focus on better understanding the combined risks of flooding, food insecurity, and biodiversity loss in the Basin and the interactions between them. 

Additional Resources:

Link to new paper in Nature Scientific Reports:

About USRA 

Founded in 1969, under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences at the request of the U.S. Government, the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), is a nonprofit corporation chartered to advance space-related science, technology and engineering. USRA operates scientific institutes and facilities, and conducts other major research and educational programs. USRA engages the university community and employs in-house scientific leadership, innovative research and development, and project management expertise. More information about USRA is available at 

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