Help Tag Satellite Imagery of Kelp Forests

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A new project launched by Zooniverse called Floating Forests uses crowdsourcing to help identify and map out Giant Kelp forests.  Macrocystis is a large brown alga that can grown to over 100 feet (33 meters) and are found close to shore in colder waters such as California, Chile, and Tasmania.  The fronds that lay across the surface of the ocean are so large, they can be detected on satellite imagery.  Kyle Cavanaugh, now a post-doctoral researcher at the Smithsonian Institute devised a method for detecting kelp from Landsat imagery while a PhD student at UC Santa Barbara. Landsat imagery offers the largest archive of continuous earth observation imagery since its launch in 1972.

Kelp forests are a critical component of many temperate and boreal coastal ecosystems.  Giant Kelp provide food and habitat for a large number of fish, invertebrates, birds, and marine mammals which in turn are important a variety of economic and commercial activities.  Little in known about the large scale effect of climate change on Giant Kelp forest.  Until now, researchers have been limited to studying small populations of kelp forests.  Floating Forests is an ambitious effort to use global Landsat satellite imagery over the span of thirty years in order to track long-term changes in giant kelp abundance along coastlines all across the world.

The project needs the eyeballs of many users to pour through the thousands of coastline satellite imagery produced by Landsat over the past three decades.  Using image recognition algorithms isn’t alway possible due to such factors as crests of waves and sun glint that can interfere with the accuracy of identifying kelp fronds.  The project uses the majority rules in determining which segments of satellite imagery might show potential Giant Kelp.

To help out visit: Floating Forests

Marking up a kelp forest along the coast.
Marking up a kelp forest along the coast.


Cavanaugh K.C., Siegel D.A., Kinlan B.P., Reed D.C. (2010) Scaling giant kelp field measurements to regional scales using satellite observations. Marine Ecology Progress Series 403:13-27. pdf