Calling all gamers and citizen scientists, you can now help NASA map the world's vast corals, right from the comfort of your couch.
This week, NASA launched NeMO-Net, an iOS video game in which players identify and classify corals while virtually traveling the ocean on a research vessel called the Nautilus. What's cool is that these virtual research expeditions are fueled by real NASA data. Using technology originally developed to look at stars, NASA's "fluid-lensing" cameras are mounted on drones and aircrafts and sent to Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and elsewhere to collect 3D images of the ocean floor, including corals, algae and seagrass. The cameras then use complex calculations to undo the optical distortions created by the water over the reefs.
Players interact with this data by learning about the different kinds of corals that lie on the shallow ocean floor and highlighting where they appear in the imagery. This helps train NASA's Pleiades supercomputer to recognize corals from any image of the ocean floor, even those taken with less powerful instruments.
"NeMO-Net leverages the most powerful force on this planet: not a fancy camera or a supercomputer, but people," said principal investigator Ved Chirayath in a statement. "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."
The more people who play NeMO-NET, the better the supercomputer's mapping abilities become, helping scientists to understand what is happening to corals and find ways to preserve them. Meanwhile, gamers will be able to track their progress, earn badges, read through the game's field guide, and access educational videos about life on the sea floor.