Surfing Against Climate Change

The technology that lets surfers fight climate change | Image source:

We normally don’t give it a lot of thought, but earth’s climate is changing, with potentially dire consequences for life as we know it.

Since the industrial revolution began, the ocean has absorbed most of the excess heat resulting from global warming, and one fourth of all the excess carbon dioxide. Scientists say that the effect of continued increases in heat and CO2 on the ocean will determine the future of earth and of humankind.

If there is a way to halt and reverse climate change, finding it will start with understanding changes in ocean chemistry, and for this scientists need data.

One of the areas from which scientists need relevant information is the coastal range. This is also one of the more difficult locations to get data from, because of currents, movement and the length of the coast.

It struck someone, however, that surfers frequent just that particular area of the ocean, presenting a research opportunity that just needed the right tool.

Hence the invention of the Smartfin. Encased in a translucent plastic surfboard fin are a GPS, a bluetooth module, a movement-recording IMU, a circuit board, memory card, temperature sensor and rechargeable battery.

Accessing the data via phone app | Image source:

Attached to a surfboard and switched on, the Smartfin uses the surfer as a near-shore buoy, letting it collect temperature, acidity, current flow and wave speed data while noting the surfer’s location. After a surfing session, the information is uploaded via a smart phone app and distributed online for access by scientists worldwide.

As the project of a non-profit organization, the Smartfin data is free to access and the fins are given to surfers at no charge.

The device was designed by coastal biogeochemist Tyler Cyronak and engineer Phil Bresnahan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of San Diego. Tested in May last year in San Diego, it is now available as well in Australia, where Southern Cross University hopes to use it in studying the Byron Bay coastline, to the Gold Coast and Coffs Harbour, as well as Noosa.

Still in prototype stage, the Smartfin is not readily available to the public. However, surfers wanting to get involved can visit the website or get in touch with people from the Southern Cross University, like researcher and surfer Renaud Joannes-Boyau.

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