Fluid Lensing: How NASA Is Going to Use Satellite Imaging to Study the Oceans

by Owen James Burke

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Fluid lensing removes parallax (displacement) colors from the surface so that a clear 3D image can be rendered.

With the success of LandSat, which has been producing land-based imaging data for the past 40 years, NASA researcher Ved Chirayath at the NASA Ames Research Center is looking to collect data on global warming through the ocean. As one might imagine, mapping the seafloor is much more difficult, mainly because we can’t always see the ocean floor through the surface.

“We have a turbulent, time-evolving surface that’s blurring our view, and essentially what I’m trying to do,” says Chirayath, “is utilize that surface as a part of your telescope or your eye or your optic…so in a way, what was originally sort of a problem — that you had this fluid in the way of what you were seeing — has now sort of actually enabled you to see what is beneath that surface.”

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What Chirayath is trying to do is use the surface as a lens using the dynamics of fluid and optical coupling (pairing different images which may be present at different times) in order to compute an image, which in turn allows for imaging of the seafloor all without even touching the water.

Dr. Sylvia Earle recently took a stroll through the research center with Chirayath, and was impressed. “The implications for global reefs,” concludes Mission Blue, Dr. Earle’s nonprofit organization, “are ginormous.”

Watch Mission Blue’s video (7/24) from NASA’s Ames Research Station Keep an eye on award-winning scientific researcher Ved Chirayath’s website for updates on the new technology. — OJB

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