NASA's Airborne Remote Sensing Laboratory for Monitoring the World's Coral

John Cronin

In our last post, JoJo Burridge, '15, explained how CO2 pollution threatens the world's coral reefs. Since then, NASA has announced a beefed up effort for its coral monitoring program. According to NASA:

The COral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL) will pave the way to better predict the future of this global ecosystem and steward them through global change by addressing the question: What is the relationship between coral reef condition and biogeophysical forcing parameters? Over a three-year campaign, CORAL will:

Objective 1. Measure the condition of representative coral reefs across the global range of reef biogeophysical values. The primary indicators for coral reef condition are benthic cover (ratio of coral, algae, and sand), primary productivity, and calcification.

Objective 2. Establish empirical models that relate reef condition to biogeophysical forcing parameters. Ten primary biogeophysical parameters are selected for their recognized influence on components of the reef system, including:

  1. Coral species richness (biodiversity)
  2. Sea surface temperature
  3. Photosynthetically available radiation
  4. Aragonite saturation state
  5. Significant wave height
  6. Coastal development threat leve
  7. Marine pollution threat levels
  8. Overfishing threat level
  9. Watershed pollution threat level
  10. Integrated local threat level

CORAL covers the Mariana Islands, Palau, portions of the Great Barrier Reef, and the Main Hawaiian Islands. These regions cover wide ranges of reef type, physical forcing, human threats, and biodiversity.

CORAL will provide the most extensive and uniform picture to date of coral reef condition through the use of the Portable Remote Imaging Spectrometer (PRISM) instrument aboard the Tempus Applied Solutions Gulfstream-IV (G-IV) aircraft. PRISM will record the spectra of light reflected upward toward the instrument from the ocean below. Its very high spectral resolution is then used to identify reef composition (i.e., coral, algae, and sand) and model primary production. In situ data are obtained to validate the remote observations.

More information on NASA's CORAL program, at this link.