Coral reef ecosystems are under stress due to human-driven climate change and coastal activities. Satellite-based monitoring approaches offer an alternative to traditional field sampling measurements for detecting coral reef composition changes, especially given the advantages in their broad spatial coverage and high temporal frequency. However, the effect of benthic composition changes on water-leaving reflectance remains underexplored. In this study, we examined benthic change detection abilities of four representative satellite sensors: Landsat-8, Sentinel-2, Planet Dove and SkySat. We measured the bottom reflectance of different benthic compositions (live coral, bleached coral, dead coral with algal cover, and sand) in the field and developed an analytical bottom-up radiative transfer model to simulate remote sensing reflectance at the water surface for different compositions at a variety of depths and in varying water clarity conditions. We found that green spectral wavelengths are best for monitoring benthic changes such as coral bleaching. Moreover, we quantified the advantages of high spatial resolution imaging for benthic change detection. Together, our results provide guidance as to the potential use of the latest generation of multi-spectral satellites for monitoring coral reef and other submerged coastal ecosystems.
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