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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

CORAL Gets to Work

CORAL Gets to Work

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, June 7, 2016/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, photography, space science, marine life, sustainability, environment, climate change

                             Pristine Coral Reefs in Samoa (credit: NOAA oceanographic team)

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CalTech in Pasadena has launched a program known as CORAL (COral Reef Airborne Laboratory) which has begun operations. CORAL will assist marine researchers around the world by providing new mapping and other technologies for coral reef conservation and recovery.

According to JPL, CORAL will conduct three years of airborne and in-water surveys of coral reefs in Florida, Hawaii, Palau, and the Marianas. They will also collaborate with reef ecologists at James Cook University who have been studying Australia's Great Barrier Reef for many years. The new initiative will focus on entire coral ecosystems, to provide state-of-the-art insights into how biological, physical, and chemical processes shape and affect these complicated ecological systems. The information will help answer important questions about how reefs are changing under the effects of climate change, water pollution from agricultural runoff, and other environemntal stresses.

Several attributes differentiate CORAL from other marine studies including:

1. the collection of "big data" from remote sensing which will allow scientists to distinguish among coral, algae, and sand---important information to assess reef condition---without having to go underwater at each survey location;

2. the project will increase the fraction of coral reefs that have been scientifically surveyed to better understand their general resilience to stressors;

3. the survey of entire reef ecosystems will represent a major step forward in research capacity over traditional diving methods;

4. the data will expand knowledge of coral diversity from ancient hard corals, deep marine reefs, to recently discovered species like those from the Amazon delta;

5. it is the first opportunity to study reefs on an ecosystem scale, rather than relying on patchy, inconsistent surveys.

CORAL's lead investigator said: "Right now, the state of the art for collecting coral reef data is scuba diving with a tape measure. That's like looking at a few trees and then trying to say what the forest is doing."

Considering the massive coral bleaching that occurred along stretches of the Great Barrier Reef recently, JPL's new CORAL effort has no time to waste.

WHB

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