The image shows healthy coral in full color at the Great Barrier Reef. Credit: ReefHQ
An international team of scientists are working at a rapid pace to study environmental conditions behind the fast-acting and widespread coral bleaching currently plaguing Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. NASA’s satellite data supply scientists with near-real-time sea surface temperature and ocean color data to give them faster than ever insight into the impact coral bleaching can have on global ecology.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is a massive marine habitat system made up of 2,900 reefs spanning over 600 continental islands. Though coral reefs exist around the globe, researchers actually consider this network of reefs to be the center of the world’s marine biodiversity, playing a critical role in human welfare, climate, and economics. Coral reefs are a multi-million dollar recreational destinations, and the Great Barrier Reef is an important part of Australia’s economy.
Scientists use ocean temperatures and ocean "color" as indicators of what is happening with coral. Coral is very temperature sensitive. Ocean "color," or the concentration of chlorophyll in ocean plants, is important because it informs scientists about changes in the ocean’s biological productivity. NASA satellites capture both temperature and color data from their space-based view of the coral reefs.
Bleaching occurs when warmer than tolerable temperatures force corals to cast out the tiny algae that help the coral thrive and give them their color. Without these algae, the corals turn white and eventually die, if the condition persists for too long.
Rob Gutro | EurekAlert!
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