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From: Roger Nelson
To: All
Date: 2016-12-20 21:45:12
Subject: A New View of Coral Reefs

A New View of Coral Reefs
 
Earth's coral reefs teem with diverse forms of life, from microscopic
phytoplankton to whale sharks. As much as one quarter of all ocean species
depend on reefs for food or shelter-a remarkable statistic considering that
reefs cover less than two percent of the ocean bottom.
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6kKSg052c0
 
Coral reef ecosystems play a vital role in maintaining Earth's marine
biodiversity and are valuable economically and culturally. Reefs protect
shorelines from storms, provide food for millions of people and create both
jobs and revenue in the tourism industry.
 
The bad news: reefs are in trouble.
 
Rising water temperatures linked to climate change threaten the health and
function of these fragile ecosystems, triggering events such as coral
bleaching. Overfishing of key fish and invertebrate species and
overharvesting of corals disrupt the natural systems, introducing invasive
species and resulting in coral disease.
 
Researchers aren't sure exactly how bad the status of Earth's coral reefs
is, because very little of the world's reef area has been scientifically
studied. Most coral reef measurements to date have been made by
labor-intensive diving expeditions, which can sample only one very limited
site at a time. Many reefs have never been surveyed at all.
 
Eric Hochberg, associate scientist at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean
Sciences and CORAL project Principal Investigator says, "Right now,
the state of the art for collecting coral reef data is scuba diving with a
tape measure. It's analogous to looking at a few trees and then trying to
say what the forest is doing."
 
Enter NASA: A new three-year NASA field expedition to examine Earth's coral
reefs is now underway.  The CORAL project-short for the "COral Reef
Airborne Laboratory," uses advanced optical instrumentation to survey
the condition of more of the world's coral reefs than has ever been
undertaken. This effort gives scientists a unique opportunity to understand
coral reefs ecology and condition at regional and global scales, rather
than relying on patchy, single-point surveys.
 
CORAL is using an airborne instrument called the Portable Remote Imaging
Spectrometer (PRISM), developed and managed at NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory (JPL). PRISM flies at an altitude of 28,000 feet above the coral
reefs aboard a modified aircraft. According to Michelle Gierach, the CORAL
project scientist at JPL, PRISM was specifically created for remote sensing
of coastal and inland waters. PRISM records the spectra of light reflected
upward toward the instrument from the ocean below, allowing researchers to
pick out the unique details and properties of living corals, algae and
sand. The ratio of coral to algae to sand is an indicator of the coral
ecosystem's condition. When combined with information on the biological,
chemical, and physical processes, these data can provide insight into how
the whole ecosystem is functioning.
 
Flying high in the air at more than 300 miles per hour to rapidly cover
broad areas, Hochberg's team will survey the condition of an unprecedented
extent of reef systems in the central and western Pacific. In September and
October of 2016, the team surveyed six discrete areas of Australia's Great
Barrier Reef with a base of operation in the northern portion of the reef.
Over the next year, the team will also survey reef systems in Hawaii, Palau
and the Mariana Islands.
 
"Reefs respond in complex ways to environmental stresses such as sea
level change, rising ocean temperatures and pollution," says Hochberg.
"We need accurate data across many whole reef ecosystems to develop an
overarching, quantitative model that describes why and how reefs change in
response to environmental changes."
 
For more updates from CORAL, and other NASA airborne missions, stay tuned
to science.nasa.gov.
 
 
Regards,
 
Roger

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