By Jolanie Martinez
Most times, studying coral means going beneath the waves.
But a new project announced Friday will head high up into the skies to survey the health of coral reefs from Hawaii to Australia.
Researchers from NASA's Coral Reef Airborne Laboratory will be working with University of Hawaii on the project.
The three-year effort will use an instrument called PRISM, which is affixed to an airplane that will fly at 28,000 feet to collect data on coral ecosystems.
"The traditional way of surveying coral reefs is to put a mask and scuba tank on," said CORAL Principal Investigator Eric Hochberg.
"If you wanted to survey Kaneohe Bay in detail, complete coverage, it would take you months, a year or more. An airplane with the right instrumentation on it would cover it in five seconds."
The science behind PRISM is fairly complicated, but even non-scientists can understand the value of the data it will collect. As NASA scientist David Thompson explains, PRISM will collect large datasets on the health of coral reefs at a time when reefs are under increasing threat.
"The value of doing this investigation right now is unimaginable because of the speed at which the environment is changing," he said.