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This sensor-stuffed surfboard fin could help scientists understand Earth’s oceans

There are thousands of buoys and autonomous vehicles spread across the vast oceans and seas of this planet, continuously feeding data on the health of our oceans to an ever growing database. But there’s a problem: little (if any) data exists on anything but the deep ocean.

Oceanographers need data on shallow water conditions, but have so far been unable to figure out a way to deal with the often turbulent waters of this part of the ocean. Why not depend on the people who are found here most, then? Enter the SmartFin.

SmartFin is a stabilizing fin with built-in sensors that can be attached to existing surfboards. Among the capabilities of the SmartFin are sensors to measure salinity, pH, temperature, location, and wave characteristics, and data is available in near real-time to researchers.

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SmartFin is the brainchild of Dr. Andrew Stern, a former neurologist that has moved on to focus on environmental issues. Stern enlisted the help of surfing technology company BoardFormula, whose founder Benjamin Thompson helped design the fin into something viable for surfing applications.

Surfers with SmartFin just need to open up an app on their smartphone at the end of a surfing session which would connect to the fin and download any available data. From there, the data is uploaded to a cloud database and made available for scientists to use in their studies.

Research on near-shore ocean conditions is considered critical to understand the effects of climate change on our world’s oceans. SmartFin seems like the easiest way to collect this data considering the amount of time surfers spend here, and the group behind the project say that even with the sensors, the fin provides the same stabilization benefits of a regular fin.

SmartFin is working with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography to see if the data collected is useful and of sufficient quality to be used in research applications. Should that prove successful, a larger rollout is planned sometime in 2016.