Satellite-imaging technology helps study an underwater world

Coral reefs may be part of a mysterious and often poorly understood realm, but scientists feel that new technology may help keep tabs on the health of oceanic reefs.

Space Imaging, the world's only company to offer commercial one-meter resolution satellite imagery, announced last week that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has purchased more than $350,000 worth of imagery to help study the health of coral reefs on the Pacific Rim.

Steve Rohmann, a physical scientist for NOAA, and colleagues from other federal, state, university, and private organizations have nearly completed coral-reef mapping activities in the US Caribbean and have initiated similar activities in Hawaii, especially along the northwest Hawaiian Islands.

More than 60 percent of the US coral-reef ecosystems are located in the Hawaiian archipelago. Of the estimated 17,000 square kilometers of coral reef areas in US waters, only about 8 percent have been meticulously mapped.

Dr. Rohmann's project uses Space Imaging's IKONOS satellite's one-meter resolution panchromatic and four-meter resolution multispectral imagery to evaluate and map these areas.

NOAA research has shown that IKONOS imagery has a depth penetration of up to 30 meters in clear water.

IKONOS imagery provides NOAA with a new technology to understand the coral-reef habitat. Prior to using IKONOS imagery, projects like the US Coral Reef Task Force used aerial imagery to analyze its subjects. But aerial imagery often fell short of expectations and in the long run was more expensive.

Space Imaging's announcement comes on the heels of an announcement made by the National Reconnaissance Office, which states that the government should be spending more money on commercial satellite imagery, and that a clear national strategy that takes advantage of the US commercial satellite industry should be developed by the president, secretary of Defense, and secretary of Intelligence.

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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