NASA is beginning a three-year field expedition to drastically enhance our understanding of the state of coral reefs around the world. This article from NASA JPL announced that the COral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL) “will measure the condition of these threatened ecosystems and create a unique database of uniform scale and quality.” Currently, most of our data on the conditions of coral reefs come from field surveys done by SCUBA divers with transect tapes. These studies are costly as they require boats, gear, and manpower, and cover an extremely limited area of the globe’s coral reefs.
According the NASA JPL article, CORAL will use an airborne instrument called the Portable Remote Imaging Spectrometer (PRISM), which records the different spectra of light that is reflected from the ocean below. The instrument is then able to distinguish between different spectral signatures and determine if an area of reef is covered in coral, algae, or sand. The images from the instrument will be validated by concurrent in-water measurements, and scientists will gain information on the state of reefs in the context of the physical, environmental, and human influences surrounding the reefs.
This is great news for scientists who will be able to use the data to get an informed view of global coral reef health and how we might manage it in the face of future climate change and human activity.
NASA JPL article link: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=4814