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CORAL Gets to Work

CORAL Gets to Work

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

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

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena has begun a program called CORAL (COral Reef Airborne Laboratory) that is now in operation.

According to NASA: CORAL will conduct 3 years of airborne and in-water surveys of coral reefs in Florida, Hawaii, Palau, the Marianas, and Australia. The new initiative will focus on entire reef ecosystems, to provide state-of-the-art insights into how biological, physical, and chemical processes shape and affect coral ecosystems. The information will help answer fundamental questions about how reefs are changing from the effects of climate change and other human activities.

Several attributes differentiate CORAL from other reef studies including:

1. the collection of "big data" from remote sensing 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 Australia's Great Barrier Reef recently, the new CORAL program has no time to lose.

WHB

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