The Earth’s oceans have an enormous influence on weather and climate worldwide. Climate scientists need data on the seas to better understand and predict climate change, but these measurements can be expensive to collect.


Andrew Stern is founder of Bellwether, an environmental education organization. When he realized how intimately connected surfers are to the oceans, he convinced Benjamin Thompson, a California surfer and engineer, to develop data-collecting sensors that can be embedded into surfboard fins. A prototype has hit the waves. Called Smartphin, the sensor measures near-shore temperature, acidity, salinity, and more.

When the surfer is done riding the waves, the data is uploaded to servers through a smartphone app. Stern says Smartphin has been tested in a lab at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. The next step is to test it in the ocean, and if Smartphin works as anticipated, Stern has big plans:

Stern: “My dream is to have it in every surf spot in the world, eventually … to deploy 100,000 Smartphins. Compared to any other technology that measures these parameters, it is very inexpensive.”

So soon, surfers will have another good excuse to hit the waves – surfing for science!

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
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A San Diego company has created a wireless sensor that can be embedded in a surfboard fin to measure ocean acidification

Bud Ward was editor of Yale Climate Connections from 2007-2022. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as assistant director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission...