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NASA has a video game to map coral reefs around the world

nasa coral reef video game

A coral reef in American Samoa, one of the locations where researchers from the Laboratory for Advanced Sensing went on deployment to collect data using fluid-lensing instruments.
Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center/Ved Chirayath

Did you know that coral reefs provide homes for as many species as a tropical rainforest? A poster-child for nature-based tourism, these large underwater structures are among the most complex and diverse ecosystems on the planet.

However, rising ocean temperatures, pollution, overfishing, coastal development, and ocean acidification have triggered a global coral crisis. Scientists want to help, but they need more data to understand how the stress of human activities is affecting these marine systems. They need a comprehensive map of the world’s coral reefs, and only 4% of the ocean floor is currently mapped.

Which is why researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California have spent the last few years developing cameras that can look below the ocean surface in more detail than ever before. Using complex calculations to undo the optical distortions created by the water over coral reefs, these sensors are sturdy enough to be mounted on a drone or aircraft flying above a water body.

NASA has already sent these cameras on expeditions to Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and elsewhere to collect 3D images of the ocean floor, including corals, algae and seagrass.

Also see: Take a virtual trip to 600 locations, including the Great Barrier Reef, on Google Earth Voyager

Now, NASA has a ton of data, but that data is no good until someone combs through the images to identify and classify everything that’s in them.

This is where you come into the picture.

NASA has created a video game, NeMO-Net, that allows iOS and Mac users to virtually ‘dive’ to the ocean floor in a research vessel called the Nautilus and spot and categorize the corals. (An Android version is in the works, we are told.)

nasa coral video game

A user playing the new NeMO-Net game that helps NASA classify the world’s coral from their own home
Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center/Ved Chirayath

The game is connected to a machine learning neural network. The more people play, the more NASA’s supercomputer Pleiades learns, ultimately bettering its mapping capabilities and classifying corals on its own. Once it has been able to accurately classify corals from low-resolution data included in the game, the supercomputer will be able to map out the world’s corals at an unprecedented resolution. With that map, scientists will better understand what is happening to corals and find ways to preserve them.

As Ved Chirayath, the Ames Principal Investigator who built neural network, puts it, “NeMO-Net leverages the most powerful force on this planet: not a fancy camera or a supercomputer, but people. Anyone, even a first grader, can play this game and sort through these data to help us map one of the most beautiful forms of life we know of.”

You can find the Mac version here and iOS version here. Game, set, dive?

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This Google Earth game will give serious déjà vu to all ’90s kids

If you’re looking to help your kids learn new things and explore the world around them, even as they shelter-in-place due to COVID-19, it may interest you to know that Google Earth picked up a classic geography-based video game to give it a fun, modern twist.

Google Earth Carmen Sandiego game

Carmen Sandiego, the iconic super thief and the star of the hit 1980s game Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? is back with her capers on Google Earth. Keeping the look and feel of the old-school computer graphics pretty much the same, and giving us major déjà vu in the process, the Google Earth version leverages the most gorgeous 3D visualization of world cities to provide a stunning backdrop to the game.

For children and adults alike, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? was more than just fun facts. With the franchisee spanning across video games, cartoon show, and a classic game show, the globetrotting Carmen Sandiego character taught all gumshoes how much bigger the world was than their couch and got them excited to learn about new cultures and customs.

Google Earth Carmen Sandiego game

“I distinctly remember being tucked into the couch, computer on and ready for the chase. With my assignment from ACME (first stop: Paris) I traveled from Singapore to Tokyo to Kathmandu chasing VILE villains, always on the lookout for that iconic scarlet coat and fedora,” says Vanessa Schneider, Program Manager, Google Earth. “Carmen Sandiego taught me the currency of Hungary (forint), the capital of Iraq (Baghdad), and dozens of country flags — Argentina’s blue and white, Germany’s black, red and gold.” The curiosity that Vanessa developed playing Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? has taken here to more than 30 countries.

But with the novel coronavirus making even the best-laid travel plans go awry, the Google Earth game can surely provide some respite. There are three capers available for all the super sleuths on Google Earth for Chrome, Android, and iOS:

The Crown Jewels Caper

Google Earth Carmen Sandiego game

Tutankhamun’s Mask

Google Earth Carmen Sandiego game

Recover the Keys to the Kremlin

Google Earth Carmen Sandiego game

Good luck, detectives!

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