26 September 2023

Satellites keeping guard on reef’s health

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An international research collaboration featuring University of Queensland (UQ) scientists is establishing a satellite-based global coral reef bleaching monitoring system.

The Allen Coral Atlas project involves satellites scanning the Earth’s oceans for coral-killing bleaching events in real time.

Chris Roelfsema, from UQ’s Remote Sensing Research Centre, said the digital atlas tool was desperately needed, given the state of the world’s coral reefs.

“The current prognosis for the world’s coral reefs is bleak. With ever-warming, more polluted and acidic oceans, models predict that 70 per cent to 90 per cent of coral reefs will be lost by 2050,” Dr Roelfsema said.

“Until now, there hasn’t been a global system in place to monitor coral reefs under the stresses that may lead to their deaths.”

He said the Atlas team had now created the tool, which monitored the global health of coral reefs, bringing new hope to support conservation efforts.

“The Allen Coral Atlas will allow us to offer critically important information to scientists, decision-makers and policy-makers, something that’s urgently needed for rapid response and conservation,” Dr Roelfsema said.

“The Allen Coral Atlas allows anyone with internet access to monitor and download data on every major reef globally at never-before-seen detail, across time.”

He said satellites detected variations in reef brightness by using high-resolution imagery powered by an advanced algorithm indicating whether reefs were under stress or resilient to marine heatwaves.

“This monitoring capability will help us to see, where and to what extent, coral bleaching is likely to be occurring as well as where it isn’t bleaching so we can identify resilient reefs,” Dr Roelfsema said.

The Allen Coral Atlas is named for the late Microsoft co-founder, Paul G. Allen.

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