A new U.S. nonprofit called Smartfin is enlisting surfers to collect data on warming oceans. Smartfin distributes special surfboard fins, which track location, motion, temperature and other data while surfers ride the waves.
“Most people who really call themselves surfers are out there, you know, almost every single day of the week and often for three, four hours at a time,” Smartfin’s senior research engineer Phil Bresnahan told Chemistry World. You could hardly imagine a group that is already more geared toward collecting ocean data than dedicated surfers.
Scientists have determined that since the 1970s, more than 90% of excess heat produced by greenhouses gas emissions has wound up in the oceans. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has posited that the rate of ocean warming has more than doubled since 1993, and that surface acidification is increasing.
Researchers at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography began collaborating with local surfers in 2017 to collect more data about the effects of the greenhouse gases. San Diego is just the pilot project. Smartfin plans to deploy its data collection devices at surf spots worldwide.
The genius of Smartfin is its symbiotic relationship between scientists and surfers. Every surfboard needs a fin for stability, and every researcher needs data. But ordinary sensors used for collecting ocean data don’t work well in choppy coastal waters. Once researchers figured out how to install a sensor inside a fin, they soon created a fleet of surfer citizen scientists.
“This is enormously beneficial for researchers,” Bresnahan said. The researchers are still tweaking the fins and hope to add optical sensors and pH detectors soon.
Smartfin project participants like David Walden of San Diego are happy to help. “If doing what I love and being where I love to be can contribute toward scientific research with the ultimate goal of ocean conservation, then I’m stoked to be doing it,” Walden said. “The Smartfin Project is a joy that gives my surfing meaning. Rad!”
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