NASA Field Expedition To Study Coral Reefs

January 7, 2016

A new three-year NASA field expedition gets underway this year to survey more of the world’s coral reefs, with Dr Eric Hochberg from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences set to be involved in the study.

NASA said, “Coral reefs, sometimes called the rainforests of the sea, are home to a quarter of all ocean fish species. They protect shorelines from storms and provide food for millions of people, yet very little of the world’s reef area has been studied scientifically.

“Virtually all measurements have been made by expensive, labor-intensive diving expeditions. Many reefs never have been surveyed, and those reefs that have been studied were measured only at a few dive sites.

DNews report on coral reefs:

“Hochberg’s team will survey the condition of entire reef systems in Florida, Hawaii, Palau, the Mariana Islands and Australia. CORAL will use an airborne instrument called the Portable Remote Imaging Spectrometer [PRISM], developed and managed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory [JPL] in Pasadena, California.

“Concurrent in-water measurements will validate the airborne measurements of reef condition. In turn, reef condition will be analyzed in the context of the prevailing environment, including physical, chemical, and human factors. The results will reveal how the environment shapes reef ecosystems.

“Reefs worldwide are threatened by human impacts and climate change. The limited observations made to date suggest that 33 to 50 percent of our planet’s coral reefs have been significantly degraded or lost, and the concern among reef scientists is that most functioning reef ecosystems will disappear by mid-century.’

Dr Eric Hochberg, CORAL principal investigator and scientist at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, said: ”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.”

“We know reefs are in trouble,” Dr Hochberg said. “We’ve seen the reefs of Jamaica and Florida deteriorate and we think we know what is happening there. However, reefs respond in complex ways to environmental stresses such as sea level change, rising ocean temperatures and pollution.

“The available data were not collected at the appropriate spatial scale and density to allow us to develop an overarching, quantitative model that describes why and how reefs change in response to environmental changes. We need accurate data across many whole reef ecosystems to do that.”

“After the 2016-2017 field campaign, the CORAL science team will analyze the new data to catalog the relative abundance of coral, algae and sand on each reef. “Then we’ll be able to start making predictions about what might happen to the world’s reefs that are based on numbers, rather than just ideas.

“Ideally, in a decade or so we’ll have a satellite that can frequently and accurately observe all of the world’s reefs, and we can push the science and most importantly our understanding even further,” added Dr Hochberg.

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