Surfing for Science: Ocean Enthusiasts Could Help Gauge Coastal Warming

Satellites are good at measuring temperatures over vast stretches of ocean, but less accurate at monitoring a particularly important type of marine environment—coastlines. Now help could come from an unlikely source: a water sports “navy” of surfers, anglers, scuba divers and others. A U.K.-led team of researchers has proposed this alliance to help gather coastal climate data in a recent paper in Frontiers in Marine Science.

The idea follows an influx of useful data collected by scientists who just happen to surf, led by marine remote-sensing researcher Bob Brewin from Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) in England. Using the surfboard-laboratories they designed, these researchers have shown satellite-measured water temperatures consistently register 1 degree Celsius too cool along local beaches. That discrepancy is important, because it means authorities may be planning responses to climate change based on measurements that underestimate warming at coastlines—which can be economically and ecologically crucial areas.

“We cannot trust satellite data in the nearshore environment for monitoring long-term trends in sea-surface temperature,” Brewin says. So his team is pushing to create a coalition of volunteer water sports enthusiasts who could gather more close-up data to complement satellite readings. Their results could also help retune measurements from space to be more accurate along coasts. “If we start collecting these data sets now, we can begin to understand how our coastal environment is responding to climate change,” Brewin adds.

Along with surfers skimming and monitoring the surface, the researchers want to get scuba enthusiasts to let their dive computers measure temperatures below, then feed the information into a database. Meanwhile Tim van Emmerik from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and colleagues have had interest from wading suit manufacturers for the prototype temperature-sensing boots they designed for anglers….

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