Scientists to lead ecosystem study of Great Barrier Reef

23 Feb 2012

Satellite image of part of the Great Barrier Reef adjacent to the Queensland coastal areas of Airlie Beach and Mackay

Scientists are preparing to share the visual majesty of oceanic life with the world, albeit virtually, and Google is also getting involved. The scientists will be studying the health of coral on the Great Barrier Reef, which is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland. Their aim is to help enhance our understanding about how climate change affects ocean ecosystems.

Details of the study have just been announced in Singapore. Google is teaming up with University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute, along with the not-for-profit organisation Underwater Earth and insurance company Calin on the study.

The partners on the study are striving to carry out the first comprehensive study of the composition and health of reef coral to depth range of 0-100m. The aim is to help increase our understanding about how climate change affects ocean ecosystems.

Comprised of coral polyps, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms. It can even be seen from outer space.

Australia’s jewel: Great Barrier Reef

Coral Reef Cairns, part of the Great Barrier Reef

A variety of corals on Flynn Reef near Cairns

The Catlin Seaview Survey camera has been developed specifically for the expedition to capture thousands of 360-degree underwater panoramas. When these images are combined, people will be able to choose a location, dip underwater and go for a virtual dive at all of the locations visited by the expedition, the University of Queensland said today.

Google’s Panoramio feature

Google is also working on a new feature called Panoramio, which links photos to locations. This means that the 360-degree panorama images can be uploaded and shared with people across the globe.

The project also will have a dedicated YouTube channel and the ability to broadcast Hangouts on air so that people can watch livestreams of the expedition team from the ocean.

Ocean ecosystems and climate change

The chief scientist on the project is Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg from the Global Change Institute. He said the scientific data gathered from the study would aim to enhance scientific understanding about how climate change and other environmental changes are likely to affect ocean ecosystems, such as the Great Barrier Reef.

“The visual nature of the project will also help bridge the gap between scientific knowledge and public awareness,” Hoegh-Guldberg said.
He said that, for the first time in history, scientists will have the technology to broadcast the findings and expedition through Google.

“Millions of people will be able to experience the life, the science and the magic that exists under the surface of our oceans,” said Hoegh-Guldberg.

He added that the survey would not just be another scientific expedition, but would aim to capture the public’s imagination and engage people with science like never before.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic