Meet the team: Arizona State University

July 15, 2019Allen Coral Atlas team

The ASU team develops technology to process the satellite images that power the Allen Coral Atlas. Get to know the team and their work!

My name is Greg Asner and I'm the Director of the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science (GDCS) at Arizona State University. For the Allen Coral Atlas, my team leads the development of the technology to map and monitor coral reef change at a global scale.

Greg diving in Mo'orea after a recent bleaching event. Change detection will help people understand how coral reefs area affected by hot-water bleaching and local damage.

Our team has built a scalable method for ingesting millions of satellite images from Planet's nanosatellite constellation which beams down terabytes of imagery each day. One of our main accomplishments has been correcting atmospheric and water column distortions within the imagery — a technique that is now a crucial step in the Allen Coral Atlas processing pipeline and provides our partners at the University of Queensland with consistent and precise satellite images for generating the Atlas's maps.

Nick Vaughn, Jiwei Li, and Dave Knapp during a brainstorming session at GDCS.

Additionally, we're using advanced AI (artificial intelligence) approaches to detect subtle changes in the satellite spectral signals that may indicate important changes to coral reefs such as large-scale bleaching and storm damage. 

My technical team consists of Nick Fabina, Jiwei Li, and David Knapp. Heather D'Angelo is our project manager and communications specialist.

What are you reading right now?

Greg: I’m currently reading historical coral papers from the 19th and 20th centuries as I work on my new book, "History of the Worldʻs Coral Reefs: Past, Present and Future."

What’s a map that changed your life?

Greg: It’s not a map, but the iconic Pale Blue Dot image of Earth impacted me.

What are you up to when not working on the Allen Coral Atlas?

Greg: I’m working on other coral and tropical rainforest projects such as mapping the health and condition of every Ohia tree across the Hawaiian Islands in order to better understand the spread of a fungal disease called Rapid Ohia Death.

Greg mapping corals from the Global Airborne Observatory, an aircraft outfitted with a suite of advanced instruments capable of mapping the seafloor to a depth of 50 feet and in three dimensions. 

Where are you originally from? Tell us about it!

Greg: I was born in Maryland and grew up on a farm. I moved to Hawaii in 1987 to become a US Navy diver, and the rest is complicated! 

What’s some work you really admire right now?

Greg: Shannon Sully et al. recently showed that corals are adapting to warmer temperatures faster than we thought.  This finding correlates with my understanding of evolutionary biology and also gives us science-based hope for the survival of corals into the future.

Learn how we analyze reef images and data

The Allen Coral Atlas is the first high resolution global map of the world’s coral reefs. The Atlas is built and maintained through a partnership between the University of Queensland, Planet, Arizona State University’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science (GDCS), National Geographic Society, and Vulcan Inc.