This is a picture of coral reefs in the Red Sea as seen from the International Space Station on May 20, 2003.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA

Peeking at Coral Reefs from Space
News story originally written on June 4, 2003

Take a look at this picture! The light blue parts are coral reefs just under the surface of the Red Sea. The crew of the International Space Station (ISS) took the picture on May 20, 2003 as they looked down at the Earth below them.

Some researchers dive into the water and study reefs up-close, while other researchers want to see the big picture. Looking at reefs from the ISS or Earth-observing satellites lets scientists figure out whether reefs around the world are healthy. They can see how much of the reef has living coral on it and how much of the coral has become sick and died.

In fact, the world’s coral reefs are in trouble. Threatened by pollution, warming sea temperatures, and coral diseases, the number of coral reefs is declining worldwide. Thanks to satellites and the ISS we are able to keep track of reef health by looking from above.

The bright spot in the lower right side of this picture is the reflection of the Sun overhead. Astronauts call the reflection sunglint. It makes it difficult to see all the reefs, but it is interesting to scientists who study how water flows around reefs. The sunglint forms a meandering pattern as waves and currents move oils around the sea surface. Some of the oily film at the surface is natural, produced by animals in the sea, but much of it is from oil and gas that is left behind by cargo ships.

Last modified June 3, 2003 by Lisa Gardiner.

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