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Remote Sensing of Coral Reefs: Uncertainty in the Detection of Benthic Cover, Depth, and Water Constituents Imposed by Sensor Noise

Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC 20375, USA
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Appl. Sci. 2018, 8(12), 2691; https://doi.org/10.3390/app8122691
Received: 20 August 2018 / Revised: 19 November 2018 / Accepted: 20 November 2018 / Published: 19 December 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Outstanding Topics in Ocean Optics)
Coral reefs are biologically diverse and economically important ecosystems that are on the decline worldwide in response to direct human impacts and climate change. Ocean color remote sensing has proven to be an important tool in coral reef research and monitoring. Remote sensing data quality is driven by factors related to sensor design and environmental variability. This work explored the impact of sensor noise, defined as the signal to noise ratio (SNR), on the detection uncertainty of key coral reef ecological properties (bottom depth, benthic cover, and water quality) in the absence of environmental uncertainties. A radiative transfer model for a shallow reef environment was developed and Monte Carlo methods were employed to identify the range in environmental conditions that are spectrally indistinguishable from true conditions as a function of SNR. The spectrally averaged difference between remotely sensed radiance relative to sensor noise, ε, was used to quantify uncertainty in bottom depth, the fraction of benthic cover by coral, algae, and uncolonized sand, and the concentration of water constituents defined as chlorophyll, dissolved organic matter, and suspended calcite particles. Parameter uncertainty was found to increase with sensor noise (decreasing SNR) but the impact was non-linear. The rate of change in uncertainty per incremental change in SNR was greatest for SNR < 500 and increasing SNR further to 1000 resulted in only modest improvements. Parameter uncertainty was complicated by the bottom depth and benthic cover. Benthic cover uncertainty increased with bottom depth, but water constituent uncertainty changed inversely with bottom depth. Furthermore, water constituent uncertainty was impacted by the type of constituent material in relation to the type of benthic cover. Uncertainty associated with chlorophyll concentration and dissolved organic matter increased when the benthic cover was coral and/or benthic algae while uncertainty in the concentration of suspended calcite increased when the benthic cover was uncolonized sand. While the definition of an optimal SNR is subject to user needs, we propose that SNR of approximately 500 (relative to 5% Earth surface reflectance and a clear maritime atmosphere) is a reasonable engineering goal for a future satellite sensor to support research and management activities directed at coral reef ecology and, more generally, shallow aquatic ecosystems. View Full-Text
Keywords: remote sensing; coral reef; sensor noise; retrieval uncertainty remote sensing; coral reef; sensor noise; retrieval uncertainty
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Ackleson, S.G.; Moses, W.J.; Montes, M.J. Remote Sensing of Coral Reefs: Uncertainty in the Detection of Benthic Cover, Depth, and Water Constituents Imposed by Sensor Noise. Appl. Sci. 2018, 8, 2691.

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