Seeing Past the Surface

Satellite imagery has revolutionized remote sensing and our ability to observe the world around us. But peering past the surface of water has always been next to impossible. We might be able to see the extent of a coral reef from a photo, but thanks to the interplay of light and water, the details are too blurry to identify what species we’re looking at.

To solve this issue, researchers decided to work backwards, taking everything we understand about the physics of light – refraction, reflections, and so on – and using it to remove the distortions. The result is NASA’s FluidCam, an instrument capable of of taking a video of shallow waters less than 10 m deep, processing it, and producing images with sub-centimeter accuracy showing what lies beneath. Tests in American Samoa revealed details fine enough that scientists were able to identify multiple coral species as well as many of the species of fish inhabiting the reef. 

With coral reefs changing quickly, this technology may be invaluable for monitoring coral health without actively disrupting these delicate systems. (Image credit: N. Usry; research credit: V. Chirayath and A. Li; via OceanBites; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh

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