When I last wrote about the Allen Coral Atlas, I was new on the team and we had just launched a site mapping a handful of test reefs. A lot has changed since then:
As a child, I adored the National Geographic magazines. I collected them for long enough to fill a bookshelf, and I think it’s fair to say that they had a pretty big influence on how I’ve ended up making a living. So it was particularly satisfying to see a project I’ve been involved with since the summer get a writeup in National Geographic:
It’s a wonderfully ambitious project—using imagery that wasn’t available 5 years ago—and terrifyingly urgent. Coral reefs are particularly sensitive to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification, and massively important as both habitat and shoreline protection. We have very little time to left to figure out ways to make them more resilient, or lose a major source of protein and watch storms do more and more damage as the reefs’ protection is lost.
The project also lost two of its champions this year: Paul Allen and Ruth Gates. I wish I had had the chance to get to know Dr. Gates. Among other things, she set a great example of how to engage with work this sad and frightening and never be crushed by the weight of it. The project continues, and feels like a fitting memorial to both.
My role is to integrate the processed data we get from two different research groups: one infers depth from the satellite imagery, and the other classifies areas of reef by types of sea floor and what’s growing on them. I write automation that turns the depth data into false-colour imagery, and prepares everything to be displayed in the web map. Here’s a snapshot of that depth imagery:
So far we just have a single snapshot in time of 6 reefs, but the real challenge will be scaling that to all the reefs in the world, updated regularly. You can explore it yourself and read about the methods and partnership at http://allencoralatlas.org/ .
Because it’s a limited preview so far and most areas aren’t covered yet, panning and zooming around the globe isn’t very satisfying. I recommend clicking on the place names in the “Mapped Areas” list to see where we actually have data. And for a first look I prefer to turn all of the data layers off, zoom to a location, and then turn them back on one at a time starting from the bottom of the list.