Help NASA Identify Corals With a Computer Game During Covid-19 Lockdown
The US space agency NASA has come up with computer game to help research into coral reefs – the perfect way to do something useful during lockdown.
Download NeMO-Net from the Apple App store (an Android version will be launched soon) and you can help map coral reefs.
Researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California have developed new instruments that can look below the ocean surface in more detail than ever before. Using techniques originally developed to look at stars, these 'fluid-lensing' cameras use complex calculations to undo the optical distortions created by the water over coral reefs.
NASA has deployed these instruments – mounted on drones or aircraft – on expeditions to Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and elsewhere to collect 3D images of the ocean floor, including corals, algae and seagrass. However, the data alone do not tell the whole story of what's happening to the corals beneath the waves, which is why NASA is asking for help.
NeMO-Net allows players to identify and classify corals using these 3D images while virtually travelling the ocean on their own research vessel, the Nautilus. Principal investigator Ved Chirayath at Ames developed the neural network behind the game, also called NeMO-Net, or the Neural Multi-Modal Observation and Training Network, which will use player input to build a global coral map.
'NeMO-Net leverages the most powerful force on this planet: not a fancy camera or a supercomputer, but people,' said Chirayath. 'Anyone, even a first-grader, can play this game and sort through these data to help us map one of the most beautiful forms of life.'
On each 'dive,' players interact with real NASA data, learning about the different kinds of corals that lie on the shallow ocean floor while highlighting where they appear in the imagery. Aboard their virtual research vessel, players will be able to track their progress, earn badges, read through the game's field guide, and access educational videos about life on the seafloor.
As they play the game, players’ actions help train NASA's Pleiades supercomputer at Ames to recognize corals from any image of the ocean floor, even those taken with less powerful instruments. The supercomputer 'learns' from the coral classifications players make by hand, using machine learning techniques to classify on its own.
The more people who play NeMO-NET, the better the supercomputer's mapping abilities become. Once it has been able to accurately classify corals from low-resolution data included in the game, the supercomputer will be able to map out the world's corals at an unprecedented resolution. With that map, scientists will better understand what is happening to corals and find ways to preserve them.
Corals are at risk from rising ocean temperatures, pollution and ocean acidification. Scientists are seeking more data to understand the ways in which corals are responding to these forces.
Reefs also play a part in combating disease. Marine systems – and particularly coral reefs – are often considered the 'medicine cabinets' of the 21st century. Organisms such as sponges, molluscs and others that call reefs their homes have contributed to medicines used to treat viruses such as HIV and diseases such as cancer.
Learn more about NASA's Earth science programmes, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/earth