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NASA satellite data helps assess the health of Florida's coral reef

NASA satellite data was used to help monitor the health of Florida's coral reef as part of a field research effort completed this August and September.

The project was the first comprehensive assessment of the resiliency of reefs along the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary is administered by NOAA in partnership with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The Sanctuary stretches from the Dry Tortugas to the southern boundary of Biscayne National Park. The area north of there has reefs and is part of the Florida Reef Resilience Program, but lies outside the sanctuary. Scientists are trying to determine why some reefs are resilient to environmental changes and impacts. The work may also identify ways to care for reefs worldwide.

At nearly 175 sites, scuba divers recorded the number and species of coral and the extent of bleaching -- corals turn white when tiny algae that live inside them die. Bleaching is a symptom of coral stress, which can be caused by high water temperatures, other environmental stresses, or disease. The project was part of the Florida Reef Resiliency Program, funded by the state of Florida and The Nature Conservancy. It involved volunteers and researchers from several agencies, organizations and universities, including the University of South Florida.

Data from the MODerate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra and Aqua satellites gave accurate, up-to-date information on sea surface temperatures to identify areas vulnerable to bleaching. The data was also used to measure the cumulative heat buildup over several weeks, shown to be particularly important to the health of reefs.

"MODIS imagery is beneficial because it provides more detail than traditional satellites, allowing us to detect conditions down to hundreds of meters - the size of individual reefs," said Christopher Moses, University
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Contact: Rob Gutro
rgutro@pop900.gsfc.nasa.gov
301-286-4044
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
3-Oct-2006


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