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August 15, 2017 Comments (0) Views: 313 Environment, September 2017, Short Stories, Tip Sheet

Smartfin Brings Science to Surfing

A pilot project pairs local surfers with smart surfboard fins that help scientists track changes in the ocean

If contributing to serious scientific research while catching a wave sounds too good (and too San Diegan) to be true, then hold on to your wetsuits. A handful of lucky local surfers just dropped in as volunteers of a pilot project for a high-tech surfboard fin equipped with sensors that study the ocean as they ride the waves.

The Smartfin—a collaboration between the San Diego chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and surfboard manufacturer Futures Fins—contains temperature, motion, GPS, and acidity sensors that collect near-real-time data. That data is uploaded to the cloud via the Smartfin app, where it’ll be used by researchers, and eventually the public, to better understand how the ocean is changing, and what those changes mean for coastal communities.

Capturing the dynamics of the surf zone, with all of its energy and wave activity, presents a unique challenge: You could put sensors on stationary objects like a pier, but there are a very limited number of those. Instead, researchers are able to collect spatial data from surfers using Smartfin up and down the coast, and even around the world.

“Smartfin is a community-building effort to get people in the water and to understand the changing ocean conditions and ocean health,” says Shannon Waters, the Smartfin project manager at Surfrider.

The project is being tested in San Diego, with the initial fins shared on a library-like lending system. The first 20 users will surf the fin for three months before returning it to let the next wave of riders make their contribution to
marine science.

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