Marine Biology: What’s space got to do with it?

A few years ago I had the opportunity to see a coral reef for the first time. We were in St. Maarten and went snorkeling off an island. I remember being fascinated by everything I saw and not wanting the experience to end. I have always loved science and this visit ignited an interest in marine biology and of course given my love of space I have focused on how the two intertwine. And guess what they do!

The International Space Station (ISS) one of the worlds most advanced international research facilities is currently studying marine life in depth. The project is called Aquatic Habitat (AQH). Sponsored by the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), the AQH takes advantage of outer-spaces unique microgravity environment to study bone density and muscle atrophy in small fish. Scientists at JAXA believe that this research will be applicable to similar conditions in humans.

While the main point of the AQH is to improve the human condition, the ISS also runs research pertaining to the environment. An interesting faction of this research is coral reef monitoring. Coral reefs are particularly susceptible to temperature change, resting within a very specific water temperature. Minute changes in water temperature, sometimes as little as one degree, can be fatal for coral reefs. Previous satellite projects, such as NASA’s Landsat, have mapped water depth and temperature through a combination of spectrometry, digital photography, and other remote sensing. However, a lack of detail and resolution was soon recognized in remote sensing. The solution to this was astronaut taken photographs of key coral reef areas- higher resolution and a certain ‘human touch’ produced visually stunning and statistically important photographs. Astronauts aboard the ISS continue to photograph coral reefs to this day.

Iles Glorieuses

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

Coral reefs provide human societies with resources and services worth many billions of dollars each year. Millions of people and thousands of communities all over the world depend on coral reefs for food, protection, and jobs. These numbers are especially staggering considering that coral reefs cover less than one percent of the Earth’s surface.

With such a great impact on our world, it only makes sense that we would be studying marine life in great depth. The fact that some of this research is happening in space and that my passion for space, and my fascination with water/water organisms- can coincide is amazing. I guess it just goes to show that if you follow what you truly love to do, you will find a job you love…ok so I’m not an astronaut yet…but I am sure my passions will lead me there. 🙂

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