Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Reef Mapped in High Resolution

By Stephen Luntz

The waters of the Great Barrier Reef have been mapped in high resolution, in many cases for the first time.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Shallow waters are hard to map by boat, says Dr Robin Beaman of James Cook University’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, but are also generally the most important. Not only are they the places where boats are most likely to come to grief, but shallow reefs have the most biodiversity as the shape of the sea floor has more influence on currents when covered by only a thin layer of water.

North of Cairns, where the coastal shelf is narrow and crossed by many shipping channels, aircraft-borne lasers have been used to map the seafloor but nearly half of the Reef had not been mapped in any detail until a team of German and Australian scientists used satellite data to map 350,000 km2 to a horizontal resolution of 30 metres.

“In order to know the way wave energy spreads across the reef we need to know the shape of the top,” says Beaman. “Scientists badly need data on internal parts, reef flats, knobs and bumps. We need good spatial tools that are consistent and high resolution.”

A wealth of Landsat images is now available using sunlight reflected off the sea floor, providing plenty of opportunity for back-up when clouds interfere with one image. The German EOMAPing tool allows these to be converted to 3D maps.

“Generally we can get good depth resolution to 30 metres, although accuracy becomes limited below 20 metres,” says Beaman. “In very...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.