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Energy & Science

Scientists Unveil High-Tech Tool to Save Rainforests of the Ocean

A new digital map tracks the health of kelp forests that combat climate change but are in peril from warming seas. 

Bull kelp in California. 

Bull kelp in California. 

Photographer: Steve Lonhart/NOAA

Scientists have created the world’s largest digital map of kelp forests, a potentially powerful tool to track the health of these underwater rainforests that store large amounts of carbon dioxide but are threatened by warming oceans

In addition to being a bulwark against climate change, kelp forests provide habitat for some 800 marine species, including sea otters, whales and commercially valuable seafood such as abalone. In places like California, kelp helps protect coastlines from storms and grooms waves for a multimillion-dollar surfing industry. It’s also an ingredient in food and cosmetics and can be refined as a biofuel. A climate-driven marine heatwave, though, wiped out 95% of kelp forests along a 200-mile stretch of California’s north coast between 2014 and 2017, devastating local fishing communities.