Surfer Scientists Can Catch Waves and Collect Ocean Data with Smartfin

Surfers love spending time on the water. Ocean temperatures are changing. These are two inescapable truths that scientists connected into a citizen science project. They designed surfboard fins with sensors in them called Smartfins to collect important information about the temperature of the water while a surfer hits waves. It also includes location and speed information. And an IMU, which records accelerometer and gyroscope data the map the size and shape of waves. Those records can help scientists understand climate change and its effects on the ocean. The surfers involved are stoked to contribute to the science of protecting the coastal waters that are their refuge. 

According to a report from UC San Diego News Center, engineering students are working with the ocean scientists who first developed the Smartfin to expand its abilities. They hope to someday also record information about the pH and quality of the water. This will help scientists better understand ocean acidification and pollution. This coastal data is nearly impossible to collect in the same way as in the open ocean. Satellites and buoys read temperature and wave height for most areas, but don’t stand up to breaking waves as they crash into our shorelines.

Ready to add one of the devices to your surfboard or stand-up paddle board? Cool surfer people can sign up to participate on the Smartfin website. The fin turns on when the surfboard hits the water and uploads the data wirelessly as soon as it’s back on dry land. You can also look back at your session via an app.

A surfer on a surboard rides the barrel of a wave, as seen from under the water
BBC Earth Unplugged

While we’re on the subject of surfing, I recommend watching the mockumentary about surfing waves made by Godzilla if you haven’t already. That would certainly throw off Smartfin data though. If we lived in a world with kaiju, the research team may have to adjust their algorithm.

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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