In DepthRemote Sensing

Ice monitor delivers a bonus: seafloor maps

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Science  17 Apr 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6488, pp. 224
DOI: 10.1126/science.368.6488.224

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Summary

Designed to explore polar ice and forest canopies, NASA's ICESat-2 satellite has found a new target: the shallow ocean floor. After its launch in 2018, mission scientists discovered the satellite altimeter's green laser was capable of penetrating coastal waters up to 40 meters deep. Although it may be no surprise that much of the deep ocean remains unmapped, sea floors less than 5 meters deep are also unexplored because they are off limits to ships and their sonar beams. That leaves what sailors call a "white ribbon" draped around coastlines on nautical charts. The ICESat-2 team has begun a new project to produce these bathymetry data in an automated way, with a particular focus on coral reefs. Such direct measures, when combined with studies using reflected sunlight, could allow global monitoring of reefs' health under the stress of climate change.

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