NASA’s Airborne Survey of Coral Reefs

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Anyone who has strapped on diving gear and glided past a healthy coral reef knows that few sights in nature are as breathtaking. From the intricately embroidered patchwork of the corals themselves to the myriad of multicolored creatures that live in the reefs’ crevices to the shimmering schools of fish that seem to move as one, every cubic inch of a thriving coral habitat appears to be alive and teaming with complexity. In truth, coral reef habitats represent some of the densest and most varied ecosystems on Earth. Though they cover only 0.2 percent of the ocean’s floor, scientists estimate that nearly one million species of fish, invertebrates, and algae can be found in and around the world’s reefs.If 33­50 percent of the world’s coral reefs have already been degraded or lost due to climate change and human impacts, most of the functioning reef ecosystems may well disappear by mid­century, say reef scientists.

If 33­50 percent of the world’s coral reefs have already been degraded or lost due to climate change and human impacts, most of the functioning reef ecosystems may well disappear by mid­century, say reef scientists.

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As a first step to estimate the extent of damage to coral reefs, NASA has embarked on an air­borne three­year field experiment called The COral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL), which aims to survey the conditions of the major reefs of the world through remote­sensing.

A new three-year NASA field expedition gets underway this year that will use advanced instruments on airplanes and in the water to survey more of the world’s coral reefs, and in far greater detail, than ever before. The COral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL) will measure the condition of these threatened ecosystems and create a unique database of uniform scale and quality.

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