Water sports can support ocean science

Water sports can support ocean science

Joschko Hammermann / Unsplash  

Coastal water sports are an untapped resource that could help scientists increase their understanding of the world’s ocean.  

Accurate observations of the Earth are required to understand how our planet is changing. Measuring the temperature at the surface of the ocean is crucial to our understanding of its biological, chemical and physical environment. The sea surface temperature (SST) influences how gases move between the sea and the atmosphere, the distribution and feeding of marine animals such as fish, whales and seabirds, and impact global and regional climates. Yet the marine environment is under-sampled, due to high costs, so more cost-effective methods for studying SST are a priority for scientists and the policy makers and managers who rely on good quality information.

Previously, surfboards equipped with temperature sensors and GPS trackers successfully demonstrated that surfers could obtain accurate SST measurements in coastal regions. Now, after that success, scientists have proposed making use of additional recreational water sports to gather further observations and fill in some of the gaps in coastal waters.

Along the world’s coastlines, countless people regularly participate in a range of activities from sea-kayaking to surfing to SCUBA diving. In the UK alone, almost 10 million people are estimated to regularly engage in coastal water sports. Over the course of a year, if each of these individuals participated in their favourite aquatic activity just 10 times, we could see around 100 million interactions between water sports enthusiasts and coastal seas. Even if only a small fraction of these individuals were to get involved in a project, there is still the potential for a wealth of citizen science data to be collected that would contribute towards our knowledge of key environmental processes.

"Considering the vast number of people that participate in aquatic recreation globally, and considering recent developments in technology, wireless data transfer and cloud-based storage, there is a huge potential to improve aquatic sampling through recreation. This is particularly true for many regions that are difficult to assess using conventional research vessels, such as in shallow coastal areas and coral reefs, or regions with limited monitoring infrastructure but high marine tourism," said lead author Dr Bob Brewin, of PML’s Earth Observation group. "There are challenges ahead, for instance, integrating sensors into water sports equipment to ensure accurate oceanographic data is collected without impacting the activity, developing methods to carefully control the quality of the data, and motivating citizens to get involved and collect the data."

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