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Sustainability News

ASU Now | September 18, 2019

2 ASU researchers using equipment to map the coral reefPeople are killing coral reefs.

These reefs — some worth $1 million per square kilometer per year — are being destroyed by overdevelopment of coastlines, improper disposal of sewage, overfishing, ocean acidification due to climate change, and many other human activities. In addition to that, these reefs are poorly mapped, limiting our understanding of them.

Enter Greg Asner and Robin Martin.

Asner, a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and the director of the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, contributes to the Allen Coral Atlas, an effort to map coral reefs worldwide. Asner's team obtains satellite images and strips them down to get as vivid and accurate a picture of corals as we can.

The first step in mapping reefs is to collect samples from the water. Martin, a biochemist who is an associate professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, then measures the concentrations of different chemicals in the corals, which change depending on the health of the coral. The dates are then organized phylogenetically to better understand the relationships between species.

Together, the Arizona State University faculty members and husband-and-wife team have already begun to transform our understanding of coral reefs. Drawing on their two decades of experience mapping tropical forests, they plan to utilize a Dornier 228 turboprop aircraft equipped with a combination of advanced technologies to generate the most detailed maps of coral reefs ever. The aircraft, also known as the Global Airborne Observatory, can map 3D topography of various terrains.