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NASA Funds Penn State Research on High-Elevation Communities in Asia

Posted: September 18, 2015

According to project co-investigator Guangqing Chi, associate professor of rural sociology and demography and faculty director of the Computational and Spatial Analysis Core at the Population Research Institute and Social Science Research Institute at Penn State, people born and raised at high elevations (above 8,200 feet) exhibit distinct physiological characteristics such as increased blood viscosity caused by higher hemoglobin content.

NASA Funds Penn State Research on High-Elevation Communities in Asia

Exploring the effects of environmental stress and policy strategies for building more resilient communities of the central Asian highlands is the focus of a new NASA-funded research project at Penn State.

According to project co-investigator Guangqing Chi, associate professor of rural sociology and demography and faculty director of the Computational and Spatial Analysis Core at the Population Research Institute and Social Science Research Institute at Penn State, people born and raised at high elevations (above 8,200 feet) exhibit distinct physiological characteristics such as increased blood viscosity caused by higher hemoglobin content.

Other issues, including chronic physiological stress and lower reproductive success, make residents of high-elevation communities particularly vulnerable to additional stressors caused by harsh environmental conditions.

“We will evaluate various aspects of environmental changes in human agricultural settlements and associated pasturelands in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to assess the impacts on these communities and the land on which the residents make a living,” Chi explained. “Our goal is to determine whether a change in pasture conditions can be detected via remote sensing technologies and subsequently linked to community well-being.”

The research team will evaluate changes in socioeconomic conditions; changes in land cover, use, and conditions, including alterations in terrain from landslides and earthquakes; changes in the pattern of soil temperature fluctuations; and changes in moisture patterns.

“The team will also look at increasing temperatures and how they affect the duration of snow cover and length of growing season, and other factors such as increased remittances (money received from family members who work in other countries) resulting in more livestock and more grazing pressure on nearby pastures and how it affects lower pastures near human settlements versus higher, more remote pastures,” said Chi.

His team will document how these changes in pasture conditions and increased remittances affect communities, characterized by population decline and aging, lower fertility rates, higher infant mortality rates, and increases in migration.

Other researchers on the project are principal investigator Geoffrey Henebry, co-director of the Geospatial Sciences Center of Excellence at South Dakota State University; and co-investigator Pavel Groisman, consultant with the Hydrology Sciences and Services Corporation in Asheville, North Carolina. Project collaborators include the U.S. Geological Survey, the International University of Kyrgyzstan, the National Academy of Science of the Kyrgyz Republic, the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources of Uzbekistan, and the Tashkent (Uzbekistan) Institute of Irrigation and Melioration.

The three-year project is being funded approximately $1 million by the Land Cover/Land Use Change Program, an interdisciplinary science program in the Earth Science Division of the NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.