Coral Bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef

Using satellite images, many different aspects of the world around us can be displayed, enhanced, and analyzed. This record of the earth can be used to track data throughout the past and leading into the future.

Scientists have recently trained the eyes of the satellites on to the Great Barrier Reef, off of the coast of Australia. The Sentinel-2 satellite has been trained on this area of the world as it flies over frequently and is able to snap high-resolution pictures of the Great Barrier Reef, which most satellites cannot accurately take pictures of.

What Causes Coral Bleaching?

The Great Barrier Reef has undergone two severe bleaching events in successive years. This has been caused by the warming of the oceans due to climate change. Researchers are concerned with the reef’s ability to regrow after bleaching events.

The bleaching of the reef occurs when algae that live in the coral are released because of increased water temperatures. Without these algae, the corals turn white and may not be able to regrow.

Images from the Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite captured on 8 June 2016 and 23 February 2017 show coral turning bright white for Adelaide Reef, Central Great Barrier Reef. Image: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016–17), processed by J. Hedley; conceptual model by C. Roelfsema

Images from the Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite captured on 8 June 2016 and 23 February 2017 show coral turning bright white for Adelaide Reef, Central Great Barrier Reef. Image: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016–17), processed by J. Hedley; conceptual model by C. Roelfsema.

In satellite imagery, dying coral appears brighter than the coral around it. Over time, the coral will darken as it dies completely. Researchers can then verify their findings from satellite images on the ground from divers who are visiting the reef itself.

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