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COCONUT ISLAND, Hawaii (AP) - Coral reefs have almost always been studied up close, by scientists in the water looking at small portions of larger reefs to gather data and knowledge about the larger ecosystems. But NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is taking a step back and getting a wider view, from about 23,000 feet above.

NASA and top scientists from around the world are launching a three-year campaign Thursday to gather new data on coral reefs like never before.

Using specially designed instruments mounted on high-flying aircraft, the scientists plan to map large swaths of coral around the world in hopes of better understanding how environmental changes are impacting these delicate and important ecosystems.

The researchers hope to discover how environmental forces including global warming, acidification and pollution impact coral reefs in different locations by creating detailed images of entire reef ecosystems.

“CORAL (Coral Reef Airborne Laboratory) is an airborne mission to survey reefs at select locations across the Pacific,” Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences’ Eric Hochberg, who is principal investigator for the project, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “The idea is to get a new perspective on coral reefs from above, to study them at a larger scale than we have been able to before, and then relate reef condition to the environment.” Hochberg and the project’s lead NASA scientist Michelle Gierach were in Oahu’s Kaneohe Bay with The Associated Press on Tuesday to gather baseline data in the water.

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