digest | Surfing for Science: digital smart-fin collects ocean data

Everyday surfboarders measure sea health.
April 1, 2019

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— contents —

~ story
~ expert quotes
~ videos
~ background

— the story —

The smart-fin is a surfboard fin with sensors that measure important ocean properties — designed to help researchers and coastal communities understand trends in ocean health. With a smart-fin — from the SmartFin project — surfers become citizen scientists, turning wave sets into data sets, while surfing their favorite breaks.

Scientists struggle to get base-line information about changing ocean chemistry. But collecting data in the surf zone near shore — with powerful waves and conditions that change fast — is especially hard.

The smart-fin is a functional surfboard fin — with built-in electronic research sensors, to collect data on the waters near shore. The smart-fin integrates: temperature, motion, salinity, GPS location, pH, oxygen, algae, and water clarity sensors into a performance-grade fin that surfers install easily on their surfboard. The goal of the project is to encourage recreational surfers to collect scientific data — while they’re already surfing, often on a daily basis.

Oceans are changing faster than ever before. Human activity — coastal development, fishing pressure, pollution: resulting in higher sea levels, higher acidity, and higher harmful contaminant concentrations — has profound impacts on sea + human health. And those impacts are continuing to amplify, in ways that are often difficult to visualize without proper data.

By equipping surfers with tools to monitor + protect their cherished surf breaks, recreational surfers will be able to make valuable contributions to coastal stewardship — important because of the rapid changes happening to the planet’s coastlines. So the project encourages communities to become good stewards of coastal eco-systems.

The built-in sensors automate the data collection process. All a surfer must do is keep the smart-fin powered-up — and spend lots of time in the water. By comparing measurements collected by many smart-fins, scientists can begin to form a big picture of coastal ocean data.

That way, researchers can track fine scale changes to sea health. The goal of the surf-fin project is to better manage ocean + shoreline eco-systems. The project is looking for partners to help make the technology robust and user-friendly — including a web + mobile app to gamify the smart-fin.

The SmartFin project is part of an ongoing effort by the Lost Bird Project + SurfRider Foundation + the 2030 Vision partnership program. The 2030 Vision collective crafts innovative approaches for world progress — and find clever solutions to complex problems facing humanity.

2030 Vision brings together companies, government groups, and institutions to forge cooperative partnerships — to support the delivery of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations. These are also called the “global goals.”

Protecting Earth’s oceans + shorelines is one of the world’s top concerns — outlined by the United Nations as a crucial step in preserving civilization + our planet.

for the smart-fin project | related Sustainable Development Goals • by the United Nations:

SmartFin collaborates with researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, one of the world’s leading facilities — to review the science applications for smart-fin in the surf zone.

SmartFin also partnered with SurfRider Foundation — an organization dedicated to the protection + enjoyment of oceans, waves, and beaches through a powerful activist network. The SurfRider Foundation helps with the distribution of smart-fins to its surfers world-wide.


quote | expert

from: Tyler Cryonak PhD
bio: science advisor • at SmartFin

“The ocean is over 70 % of our planet. And understanding how the oceans are changing is critically important to seeing how humanity and Earth will be affected in the future. We really don’t know what’s going to happen — and that’s scary. The variability in the temperature in the data we’re collecting can tell us about how deeper water is mixing in the surf zone. That’s important to understand how weather change is going ot affect coastal communities.

“Since year 1880 ocean temperatures have increased by 1 degree celsius. That might not seem like a lot. But it’s led to melting arctic ice, rising sea levels, decimated fish populations, the destruction of coral reefs in coastal areas.”

Tyler Cryonak PhD

quote | expert

from: Phil Bresnahan PhD
bio: research engineer • at SmartFin

“We don’t have a good understanding of how temperature is changing coastal zones because it’s difficult to measure via satellite. And the data we need to evaluate this problem can’t be collected from shore, or from deep ocean buoys. That’s where smart-fin comes in. We don’t have a lot of coastal wave data — from where the waves are actually breaking. So we can start to fill that information gap. The smart-fin is equipped with sensors, and it fits onto a regular surfboard.

“Some of the data we’ve already collected is surprising. We weren’t expecting to see so much variability in the temperature of the surf zone. When you’re out surfing you can feel warm + cold patches, but to see it’s varying 4 degrees in a small space is interesting.”

—  Phil Bresnahan PhD

watch | video


on the web | pages

SmartFin | home

2030 Vision | home
2030 Vision | SmartFin project

Lost Bird Project | home
Lost Bird Project | SmartFin project

SurfRider Foundation | home
SurfRider Foundation | SmartFin project

Scripps Institution of Oceanography • at Univ. of California | home

background | the 17 Sustainable Development Goals • by the United Nations

The Sustainable Development Goals — also called the “global goals” — are the blueprint to achieve a better future for humanity. They address the global challenges we face: poverty, environmental degradation, social welfare. The goals connect — in order to leave no one behind, it’s important that society achieves each goal by year 2030.

  1. end poverty in all its forms
  2. zero hunger
  3. health
  4. education
  5. gender equality + women’s empowerment
  6. water + sanitation
  7. energy
  8. economic growth
  9. infra-structure + industrialization
  10. non-equality
  11. cities
  12. sustainable consumption + production
  13. climate change
  14. oceans
  15. bio-diversity + forests + desertification
  16. peace + justice + strong institutions
  17. partnerships

on the web | pages

the United Nations | home
the United Nations | the Sustainable Development Goals: home
the United Nations | the Sustainable Development Goals: knowledge platform

on the web | reading

Surfer | SmartFin turns surfers into citizen scientists


founding partners | 2030 Vision

home | British Council org.
home | Center for Global Equality org.
home | Fauna + Flora International org.
home | Global e-Sustainability Initiative org.
home | New York Academy of Sciences org.
home | Project Everyone org.
home | United Nations org.
home | Univ. of Cambridge

home | Microsoft co.
home | SAP co.

home | SustainAbility firm • by ERM grp.
home | ARM co. • by SoftBank grp.

— notes —

* GPS = global positioning system
* pH = potential of hydrogen

* ERM = the Environmental Resources Management grp.
* NYAS = the New York Academy of Sciences org.
* UN = the United Nations org.

* SAP = Systems, Applications, Products in Data Processing co.

* ARM = advanced RISC machine or acorn RISC machine
* RISC = reduced instruction set computer

* ARM co. is under the umbrella of SoftBank grp.