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NASA recruits gamers to help identify and map the world’s corals

One devastating way in which climate change is affecting the planet is by killing off coral reefs around the world. But while there are projects underway to halt the damage done to corals, it’s hard for scientists to know how widespread the problem is as we don’t have a good map of coral systems.

For several years, NASA has been developing a system for imaging coral ecosystems from the air using instruments attached to drones or aircraft. These instrument have collected plenty of data, but the images of corals need to be identified and classified before they can be used for research.

So, NASA is turning to citizen science for help with this project, by using a video game called NeMO-Net to invite people to work on the classification of corals. The game uses a neural network to take input from players and build out a worldwide map of corals.

“NeMO-Net leverages the most powerful force on this planet: Not a fancy camera or a supercomputer, but people,” said Ved Chirayath, Principal Investigator on the project. “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 we know of.”

A user playing the new NeMO-Net game that helps NASA classify the world's coral from their own home
A user playing the new NeMO-Net game that helps NASA classify the world’s coral from their own home NASA/Ames Research Center/Ved Chirayath

Players take “dives” into the ocean and learn about corals while providing classification data from a virtual research vessel. The data they produce is analyzed by NASA’s Pleiades supercomputer.

“Data from the NeMO-Net game is fed to NASA NeMO-Net, the first neural multi-modal observation and training network for global coral reef assessment,” the website explains. “NeMO-Net is an open-source deep convolutional neural network (CNN) that leverages NASA’s Supercomputer, Pleiades, to use game data to classify and assess the health of coral reefs around the world.

“NeMO-Net exploits active learning and data fusion of mm-scale remotely-sensed 3D images of coral reefs captured using fluid lensing with the NASA FluidCam instrument, presently the highest-resolution remote sensing benthic imaging technology capable of removing ocean wave distortion. These data are used to train low resolution data from NASA’s Earth Observing System, including hyperspectral airborne remote sensing data and satellite data to determine coral reef ecosystem makeup globally at unprecedented spatial and temporal scales.”

The game is only available on iOS and Mac for now and can be downloaded from the App Store.

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