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Satellite images help marine research

Florida scientists trying to study the health and condition of the world’s fragile coral reefs have turned to sophisticated tools – including satellite technology. Satellite data and images available to researchers from a variety of government sources including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA are providing complex pictures of everything from ocean temperature to coral cover. In recent years, these techniques have had a profound influence on the scope and ambition of traditional marine research.

At the forefront of the new techniques are Frank E. Muller-Karger and Chuanmin Hu, two researchers at the University of South Florida’s Institute for Marine Remote Sensing.
The men use a method that looks at slight color gradations of ocean water obtained from satellite images to extrapolate the water’s health. Each gradient of color is given a specific marking and a property that corresponds to different conditions. The satellites are also applied to provide information and pictures of water glow, suspended sediments, water depth and sea-grass cover.

The images aren’t always perfect. They can be susceptible to streaking across parts of the sensor, and smoke and cloud cover can reduce visibility or contaminate colors. Some of the satellite data comes from NASA’s Terra, Acqua and LANDSAT — which employ special sensors to measure water color and temperature, cloud cover and atmospheric properties – as well as one privately owned satellite. Five NOAA satellites take stock of properties such as seawater temperature.