With the development of its latest feature, scientists using the Allen Coral Atlas have the ability to see predictions of where the ocean is heating up, and simultaneously assess the location, extent and severity of coral bleaching events. This new shallow coral reef monitoring system piloted in the Hawaiian Islands creates a weekly updated view of “observed brightening,” likely to be coral bleaching.
“This is years in the making and personally satisfying that Hawaii is the proof-of-concept site. Our team was able to work coral by coral, reef by reef, day in and day out to make this happen,” said Greg Asner, Director of Global Discovery and Conservation Science at Arizona State University and an Allen Coral Atlas partner. “This functionality is foundational to understanding rates of reef change as well as providing geospatial information on reef resilience and candidate sites for reef restoration.”
The bleaching detection system uses machine learning to analyze change in pixel-by-pixel brightness of satellite-based imagery of the coral reefs over time. When combined with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch (CRW) monitoring of heat stress, the coral bleaching monitoring system generates new visualized data that shows the state of coral reefs. This is particularly timely with new reports that show bleaching has already destroyed half the corals along the Great Barrier Reef and predictions continue for catastrophic coral bleaching events globally.
Allen Coral Atlas recently installed the Coral Reef Watch (CRW) heat stress monitoring functionality, allowing a review of NOAA’s sea surface temperature data going back to August of 2019.
“Having the Coral Reef Watch data overlaid on the Allen Coral Atlas maps allows us to be proactive instead of reactive,” said Mark Eakin, Coordinator for NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch. “This is like a tornado warning for corals and allows reef managers to take precautionary action such as closing dive sites or shading corals to reduce stress during warming events.”
The integrated data facilitates more focused allocation of slim resources to areas where corals are most in need. The CRW time series will help focus attention on reefs that might be in jeopardy and the change detection functionality will depict what is happening on the reef systems. The Allen Coral Atlas team plans to apply the methodology across the world’s reef systems within the next year.
Named for Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen, the Allen Coral Atlas was launched December, 2017 through a partnership established by Vulcan Inc. that now includes Arizona State University, Planet, University of Queensland, and National Geographic Society. In early 2019, the development team was able to complete the first-ever global photo-mosaic of the world’s coral reefs through satellite imagery and is on track to complete the mapping of all shallow reefs at high resolution by mid-year next year.