NeMO-Net: Resolving Coral Reefs
Coral reefs are essential for healthy oceans and thriving coastal communities. In the United States alone, coral reefs provide $100 billion worth of economic value and sustain more than 70,000 jobs, according to NOAA.
But this invaluable natural resource is dying out at an astonishing rate due to climate change. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that as much as 90% of the world’s coral could perish by 2050.
Ved Chirayath, who was a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center at the time, used grants from ESTO’s Advanced Information Systems Technology (AIST) program to pioneer breakthrough techniques for studying how climate change impacts coral reefs.
These awards helped fund “FluidCam,” a compact sensor that allows researchers to see the ocean floor with unprecedented clarity, and “NeMO-Net,” the first neural multi-modal observation and training network for global coral reef assessment.
Smaller than a football, FluidCam is a high-performance camera that captures detailed images of the seabed at depths of up to 45 feet. The instrument runs custom “Fluid Lensing” correction algorithms, which scrub distortion caused by the ocean surface from collected images.
FluidCam, developed in 2014, typically flies aboard a small airborne drone, but future iterations of the instrument could find their way onto spaceborne platforms, allowing researchers to observe coral reefs at a global scale.
NeMO-Net, developed in 2016, is a convolutional neural network that trains machine learning algorithms to classify coral reefs. The program features an innovative citizen science component, in which users play a mobile game to characterize sets of coral reef data that NeMO-Net then uses to improve its training regimen.
Now a National Geographic Explorer and Director of the Aircraft Center for Earth Studies at the University of Miami, Chirayath is working to apply his FluidCam, Fluid Lensing, and NeMO-Net technologies towards planetary science, combing images of distant planets for signs of extraterrestrial life.