Aug 24, 2009

NASA scientists study seagrasses

Even with satellite information, it is important to get data literally on the ground. The work of TeamSeagrass helps us better understand our seagrass meadows and what is happening to them.

At this moment, a fleet of NASA Earth-observing satellites is silently passing overhead, gathering vital information about our planet. NASA scientists Maury Estes and Mohammad Al-Hamdan are combining that heavenly data with local water samples to help check the health of the coast.

"We're most interested in sea grass and marine vegetation," says Al-Hamdan. "A region's plant health tells you a lot about the health of the area itself."

"It's fair to say that if seagrass is in trouble, so is everything else in the area," explains Dr. Ken Heck of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Mobile. "Sea grass beds provide shelter and food for many ecologically and economically important fish and shellfish, and even for the manatee -- an endangered gentle giant that regularly visits Mobile Bay. These beds also stabilize the shoreline, prevent erosion, and even help filter and cleanse the water that enters our estuaries from the watershed."

When Estes and Al-Hamdan aren't in the office pouring over satellite images to help foresee the coastal future, they're heading out to sea, where they collect water samples to analyze for "ground truth" to validate their model. The ocean voyages also give them a first-hand view of what they're studying and why.

"You do science in the real world – not in the office," explains Estes. "Going out there gives you a good perspective on the research data. If you don't physically know the area you're studying, it limits your understanding."

Full article on the wildsingapore news blog.

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