It maps waves, predicts conditions, turns surfers into citizen scientists, and could be the data-collecting tool climate scientists need to study our rapidly acidifying oceans.
As the Internet of Things inches its way into every corner of our lives, no one would blame you for rolling your eyes at the suggestion that even a surfboard should be embedded with sensors and smartphone connectivity.
Don’t. That surfboard is real. And it’s helping scientists better understand the impact climate change is having on our oceans.
In 2010, Andrew Stern, a former professor of neurology at the University of Rochester who’s now an environmental filmmaker and advocate, realized that surfers could serve as citizen scientists. Simply based on how much time they spend in the ocean, they could help collect data while on the water.
One of his filmmaker friends had recently met Benjamin Thompson, a surfer pursuing a PhD in structural engineering at the University of California, San Diego. Thompson was studying fluid-structure interactions, research that involved embedding sensors into boards. “It was mostly about tracking the performance of board,” he says. Thompson’s goal: to help the surfboard industry make better boards, and maybe use sensors to help surfers better understand (and improve) how they surf.