Remote Sensing of Coral Reefs at NASA: Overview of Integrated Collaborations, Projects, and Products
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Other Data Sources and Related Scientific Projects

In addition to the major collaborations outlined previously, NASA support has led to a number of spin-off projects that have improved local and regional studies around the world.

Astronaut Photography as Supplemental Data

Astronaut photography of coral reef areas has been an important source of supplemental data in coral reef mapping. Astronaut photographs were key illustrations throughout the World Atlas of Coral Reefs ( (Spalding et al. 2001), and a major early source of remote sensing information in ReefBase (Robinson et al. 2000).

Astronaut Potograph ISS005-E-13927 The availability of a significant number of digital photographs (3-band data) of coral reefs taken from the International Space Station with spatial resolution ranging from 5-10 m has been of particular interest to coral reef researchers. NOAA has successfully applied its new bathymetry algorithm to digital astronaut photography with excellent results (Stumpf et al. 2003). Additional collaborations have evaluated and refined the use of astronaut photography in cloud detection (Andréfouët and Robinson 2003) and evaluated the influence of the spatial scale of the imagery on determining landscape parameters of atolls (Andréfouët et al. 2003). Applied scientists have also taken advantage of the high spatial resolution of digital astronaut photography for use in planning dive surveys and other management activities (e.g., Quod et al. 2002).

Regional Collaborations

The University of South Florida has participated in regional projects that have included data exchange and technology development. Synthesis and sharing of data in these projects has been critical to developing the global geomorphology classifications, and to assembling the necessary Landsat 7 data. They also have significantly enhanced NASA's objectives in increasing capacity for use of remote sensing data in coral reef mapping. Highlights of these regional projects include studies of the status of reefs in Panama (with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, [Andréfouët and Guzman 2004]), status of reefs in Cuba (with the University of Miami/Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and Int. Oceanologia Cuba), status of reefs in French Polynesia (with U. Polynesie Francaise), geodetic accuracy of Landsat 7 on Great Barrier Reef (with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority), study of climate forcing in the Maldives and Marshall atolls (with Dalhousie University, Canada and National Institute of Envirnomental Sciences, Japan).

Future NASA-sponsored activities in Interdisciplinary Science will include calibration of a sediment transport model in the New Caledonia lagoon (with Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, New Caledonia, [Ouillon et al. 2004]), calibration of circulation and larval transport models in Mesoamerican Reef System (with Dalhousie University, Canada), and enhancement of a coral bleaching risk model for the Great Barrier Reef (with Australian Institute for Marine Science and NOAA).

NOAA Coral Reef Mapping Activities

NOAA has taken the primary responsibility for mapping activities in U.S.-Flag waters under the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force's Mapping Implementation Plan. NOAA National Ocean Service's work in developing bathymetry algorithms (described previously) has provided new opportunities for automation of coral reef mapping on regional and global scales. NOAA's most recent coral reef mapping activities have focused on producing benthic habitat maps of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Extensive methods development has focused on using IKONOS and Landsat data to make habitat maps that are consistent with previous habitat mapping efforts by the NOAA NOS Biogeography Program. These efforts have involved aerial photography in the Florida Keys and Caribbean and a combination of aerial photography and hyperspectral imagery in the main Hawaiian Islands. Satellite data are also being used to determine water quality patterns and identify broad trends in the condition of habitats in coral reef areas. NOAA and NASA scientists continue to collaborate in methods development and product refinement to meet common objectives.

Reefs at Risk

The World Resources Institute has used Millennium Coral Reef Maps in regional assessments (such as Reefs at Risk in the Caribbean, 2004 and as part of Reefs at Risk Revisited (, an update of their influential 1998 assessment of risks to the world’s coral reefs expected to be released in 2011.