Advanced virtual technology captures how coral reefs recover after bleaching

Posted: April 12, 2019 by oldbrew in Natural Variation, research

Coral reef [image credit: Toby Hudson / Wikipedia]

Researchers call it ‘an important counterpoint’ to some of the negative reports about coral bleaching, which are often used to promote climate alarm. At least some of the usual doom and gloom is overdone, to say the least.

Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and engineers at UC San Diego have used new imaging software to detect dramatic recovery after a bleaching event on the reefs surrounding remote Palmyra Atoll in the tropical Pacific, reports

The research was published April 5 in Coral Reefs.

In 2015, Palmyra experienced its warmest water in recorded history, prompting a widespread bleaching event that affected over 90 percent of the corals surrounding the island.

Researchers found that despite the widespread bleaching, most of the corals recovered, with less than 10 percent dying.

The conclusions are based on comprehensive monitoring of the reefs and is providing for more precise observations of how reefs are changing over time.

The researchers used a long-term data set of thousands of pictures of the same reef area collected over eight years. These images were stitched together using custom software to create 3-D photo mosaics of the ecosystem—a virtual representation of the corals.

The technology was developed by the 100 Island Challenge team, a collaborative group of marine ecologists and engineers using the latest technology to monitor coral reefs around the world.

“This imaging provides a way of getting back into the environment in a virtual world,” said Mike Fox, lead author and postdoc at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who completed the research as a Ph.D. student at Scripps. “It allows us to bring the reef back into the lab.”

The researchers combined this imaging technology with a new custom visualization software, VisCore, that allows users to re-examine the thousands of photographs that comprise the mosaics. VisCore took more than 15,000 images for every 10 square-meter area of coral reef and then processed the data to turn the images into a 3-D map that users can dive into in virtual reality.

The 100 Island Challenge literally unlocked another dimension to Viscore by bringing a highly interdisciplinary research team together, to create the data, algorithms and tools that are now allowing scientists to virtually explore reefs in the lab; to time-travel virtually from year to year; to track the growth and decline of individual colonies; and to study spatial and temporal relationships across the reef.

The project was made possible by bringing together researchers from Scripps and the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego with a deep commitment to the project, said Falko Kuester, a professor of computer science and structural engineering at UC San Diego.

“We want to give coral reefs a voice, to tell their stories and engage stakeholders to safeguard them,” he said.

Full report here.

  1. ivan says:

    Oh dear, what are the coral reef doom sayers at the Australian James Cook university going to say especially when they threw out Professor Peter Ridd when he had the temerity to question some of the so called research on the great barrier reef?