It's hard to remember that the true "science" of the CORAL campaign is quite literally the data collected by the airplane. All of the ground work - from logistics to boat hours, from instrument setup to algorithm tweaking, from underwater camera challenges to photomosaicking... all of this has but a single purpose: to validate the data collected by the airplane. To conclusively state, "Yes. The airplane imagery looks good."
So how do you tell 14 people working their butts off for two solid weeks that the airplane still isn't ready? And that even if it had arrived on time, there's too much cloud cover to conduct any useful flyovers?
It's not easy. But the unpredictability of the weather is something that every environmental scientist comes to accept. The chaotic nature of the Earth is both incredible and incredibly frustrating, and we experienced the latter during our Operational Readiness Test in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
Luckily, a coral reef ecosystem takes a long time to change its structure in any significant and visible way. Because of this, we can confidently say that the airplane images (shot 1-2 weeks late) are still correlated with the underwater validation images. In the end, our benthic cover team was able to document almost 20 sites, despite high tradewinds and turbid water!
It was eye-opening to see just how many moving parts come together to create a good matchup. The science team needs to be on location, the airplane has to be on standby, instruments can't fail, pilots need to have available hours, clouds can't blow in, etc., etc., etc. And this is all for a study conducted right here on our home planet.
I can't even imagine how NASA deals with outer space.