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COral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL)

The COral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL) was a three-year mission from 2016-2019. The goal of CORAL was to provide critical data and new models needed to analyze the status of coral reefs and to predict their future. CORAL provided the most extensive picture to date of the condition of a large portion of the world’s coral reefs from a uniform dataset. The data revealed trends between coral reef condition and biogeophysical forcings, both natural and those arising from human activities. With this new understanding of reef condition, we can better predict the future of this global ecosystem and provide policy makers.

CORAL acquired airborne spectral image data using the Portable Remote Imaging Spectrometer (PRISM) instrument installed in a commercial airplane Gulfstream-IV (G-IV) from Tempus Applied Solutions.  In situ data were obtained to validate the remote observations. For each reef, the spectral image data were processed to provide the reef “condition” described by measurable quantities of benthic cover of coral, algae, and sand; primary productivity; and calcification. These three reef condition parameters were analyzed quantitatively against ten key biogeophysical parameters using new models to understand reef conditions today and predict reef conditions in the future.

In 2016-2017, CORAL flew over key reef areas in the Pacific Ocean including Hawaii, the Mariana Islands, Palau, and the Great Barrier Reef.


The image above illustrates the CORAL approach. Mounted in the belly of a Gulfstream IV aircraft operated by Tempus Applied Solutions, PRISM recorded the spectra of light reflected upward toward the instrument from the ocean below. Its very high spectral resolution was then used to identify reef composition (i.e., coral, algae, and sand) and model primary production.

All CORAL data can be found at:

Principal Investigator: Eric Hochberg (Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences)

Program Scientist: Paula Bontempi (NASA HQ)

Project Scientist: Michelle Gierach

Project Manager: William Mateer

Mission Manager: Jennifer Olson (LARC)