Mapping Through the Waves to access climate change: With Fluid lensing and drones

There is still a lot undiscovered and unmeasured on this earth, as the centuries-old living corals. Who could have thought that the secret to unlocking these mysteries will lie within the flying robots?

The survey and mapping of rainforests have resulted in a new understanding of the role of these ecosystems in sustaining the biosphere. Detailed mapping of corals could do the same and allow scientists to conduct precise population surveys over large areas and assess the impact of climate change.

Why map the oceans?

All this time we’ve been looking at the land and think that it drives climate change. But when we see the earth from space, it’s not green or brown, it’s BLUE! 70% of the earth is an ocean, hence it’s extremely essential that we know more about them to understand climate change better.

There might be a possibility that the window of time to study these mysterious ecosystems that provide sustenance and livelihoods to billions of people is closing. The impact of destructive fishing practices, pollution and climate change, such as warmer and more acidic oceans threaten the corals. 

Challenges 

Scientists since long were trying to make coral reef maps, however standard underwater approaches such as hand-drawing maps, measuring out quadrants are highly time and labor-intensive and often inaccurate. 

Satellite imagery through water tends to be distorted by wave movement and radar can not penetrate the water’s surface. SONAR also doesn’t work well in shallow water where most corals reside. That’s where drones and fluid lensing come into play. With fluid lensing, you can use the fluid as a lense to obtain high-resolution images.

Fluid Lensing

A scientist at NASA, Ved Chirayath has developed a special camera called the “Fluid Cam” that can see and shoot clearly through ocean waves. Imagine you’re looking at something sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool. If no swimmers are around and the water is still, it is clearly visible to you. But if someone dives in the water and makes waves, that object becomes distorted. You can’t easily distinguish its size or shape.

Drones and fluid lensing a promising advance in remote sensing of aquatic environments

Fluid lensing solves this problem by calculating and removing the optical distortions caused by waves at the surface of the water and allows the sensor to capture clear, sharp photos that look as though they were captured from below the surface. 

The use of fluid lensing technology on drones is a novel means for 3D imaging of aquatic ecosystems at the centimeter scale. Fluid lensing uses water-transmitting wavelengths to passively image underwater objects at high-resolution by exploiting time-varying optical lensing events that are caused by surface waves. Fluid lensing data are captured from low-altitude using cost-effective electric UAVs to achieve multispectral imagery and bathymetry models.