NASA has a new coral campaign that is turning heads

NASA has started a new 3-year expedition this month that will be using advanced equipment that will be used on airplanes and in the water to help better survey the reefs below in better detail than we have ever been able to. CORAL, or Coral Reef Airborne Laboratory, is said to be measuring the condition of the coral ecosystems and has been measuring the condition of these ecosystems that are threatened.


The reefs, which can also be known as the rainforests of the sea, are home to thousands of fish. In fact, a quarter of all ocean fish species are found in coral reefs. They provide so much for everyone, yet, we have barely began to dive into studying these reefs. The majority of reefs have not been studied or surveyed at all! Eric Hochberg, who is a principal investigator and scientist with CORAL, recently spoke on this topic. “Right now, the state of the art for collecting coral reef data is scuba diving with a tape measure, It’s analogous to looking at a few trees and then trying to say what the forest is doing.”

His team will be surveying the condition of the entire reeds that inhabit Australia, Palau, Florida, the Mariana Islands, and Hawaii. They will use a instrument they have nicknamed PRISM, or Portable Remote Imaging Spectrometer. This has been developed and managed at NASA. A Jet Propulsion Laboratory that is located in Pasadena, CA.

This will analyze the content for the chemical, human, and physical factors. The reefs all over the world have been threatened by climate change and human impacts. Almost 50% of the planet’s reefs have been lost or severely degraded. At this rate, they would completely disappear entirely by mid-century.


According to Michelle Gierach, a CORAL project scientist at JPL, PRISM was specifically created for remote sensing of coastal and inland waters. PRISM records the spectra of light reflected upward toward the instrument from the ocean below, allowing researchers to pick out the unique spectral signatures of living corals and algae. As corals die, algae increase on a reef, so the ratio of coral to algae is an indicator of the ecosystem’s health.

“Now, estimates of global reef status are synthesized from local surveys with disparate aims, methods and quality,” Gierach said. “With CORAL, we will provide not only the most extensive picture to date of the condition of a large portion of the world’s coral reefs, but a uniform dataset, as well.”

NASA has provided the funding for CORAL through their Earth Venture-Suborbital program. This program chooses competing  airborne and field investigations that focus on  particular scientific questions, that will complement the agency’s satellite missions. NASA’s Earth Venture program supports new and different approaches to address Earth science research with the ability to  often allow  accommodations for new scientific priorities.

NASA utilizes a vantage point from space, one that allows us to have a better understanding of the earth. This will improve our lives and will protect the future. NASA continually develops and creates new ways to study and observe the earth and the systems around with records and data. This information is shared freely to help the world better understand how our world is changing.