Diving for Coral with a Plunge from Space



As scientists begin to map the world's coral, they're developing tools that can combine the findings of many different instruments into a comprehensive database. This visualization shows how that kind of synthesis might fit together.

More specifically, the purpose of this sequence is to demonstrate how different levels of resolution can contribute to a more refined total picture of what actually lives beneath the surface of the world's coastal oceans. The data sets are collected from the following sources, and listed with their corresponding levels of resolution:

SeaWiFS (NASA Instrument/U.S. Satellite): 1000 meters
MOS (German Instrument/Indian Satellite): 500 meters
Space Shuttle photograph: 30-50 meters
Landsat 5 (NASA Instrument/US Satellite): 30 meters
AISA aircraft instrument: 5 meters
Benthic Habitats Map: 2-3 meters

The long, thin rectangle of data shown close to the ocean's surface is information collected from the aircraft. The motley pattern appearing underneath that stripe is a synthetic, analytic image created with software called Benthic Habitats. The software defines ocean environment characteristics down to the 2-3 meter range by combining information from various sources. Where the prior five levels of data are observational, captured by instruments flying above the research zone, the synthetic Benthic Habitats image comes analytic data, tailored in this case to the task of coral identification and research.

One year, 900 locations, thousands of coral reefs. That's the tally of NASA's Landsat 7 satellite as it continues to deliver cutting edge images and information about the Earth. Data being presented this week at an international conference in Indonesia is the first assessment of the physical condition of major reefs from the the new Landsat 7 collection of images. More than 5000 coral reef scenes have been amassed in the first year of Landsat 7's operation. In that collection, many reefs have been seen more than once, offering scientists an opportunity to study seasonal variations as well as other changes in the reefs caused by hurricanes and climate change.

For more information, see the accompanying press release

Visualization by Scientific Visualization Studio, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center