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U.S., NASA will give $17 million to explore marine biodiversity

The U.S. has announced a new prototype system to "gauge national marine biodiversity," NASA reports. The system will include three demonstration projects, which together will cost roughly $17 million.

The projects, which will be completed over the next five years, will be funded by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in conjunction with contributions from the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The prototype observation networks will use NASA satellite data from marine environments in four locations in the U.S: the Florida Keys; Monterey Bay and the Santa Barbara Channel in California; and the continental shelf in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska. The Shell Oil Company will also contribute funding to the Alaska project.

Scientists hope the projects will "lay the foundation" for the first national network to monitor biodiversity, NASA reports. The new network would include observations of every part of marine life, "at scales ranging from microbes to whales." If successful, the network could "serve as a marine resource management tool to conserve existing biodiversity and enhance U.S. biosecurity against threats such as invasive species and infectious agents," according to NASA. The network could also help scientists develop strategies for dealing with pollution and climate change.

"We now have large amounts of biologically relevant information on marine ecosystems, including global observations of ocean color and sea surface temperature from space," Woody Turner, manager of NASA's Biodiversity Research Program at NASA's Washington headquarters, said in a statement. "But we need a more effective way of combining different types of information to get a better picture of how marine ecosystems are changing if we are to sustain these important ecosystem resources."