SAMS news room

SCUBA-diving 'scientists' can help monitor ocean temperatures

Did you know that each time you scuba dive you are potentially collecting data which can help scientists better understand our seas and oceans?

The potential of scuba divers to provide vital information about the temperature of our oceans has been demonstrated for the first time using ‘citizen science’. A study published today in Nature’s online journal Scientific Reports has shown that temperature profiles from scuba divers’ computers can be compiled to provide accurate records across the globe that add to our existing monitoring network in inshore areas. This offers additional data that could help us better understand our marine environment.

The work, led by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas) in collaboration with the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), developed the diveintoscience website that collected more than 7,600 temperature records from sport divers to build up a record of global sea temperature in the first ‘citizen science’ project of its kind.

Dr Serena Wright (Cefas), lead author of the study, said: “Our results show that, with processing, dive computers can provide a useful and novel tool with which to augment existing monitoring systems all over the globe, but especially in under-sampled or highly changeable coastal environments."

Co-author Dr Martin Sayer leads the Natural Environment Research Council’s National Facility for Scientific Diving (NFSD) based at SAMS and has conducted numerous studies on the performance of dive computers. He said: “What we are hoping is that the results from this study will encourage manufacturers and their customers to see the potential benefits of developing new dive computer models that not only support the diver but also produce high quality oceanographic data.”

The temperature recordings were downloaded from decompression computers that are commonly worn by sport divers, but the accuracy of these records was unknown. Comparisons made by ‘diving’ computers alongside scientific instruments and with satellite measurements of water temperature in this study showed that diver computers can provide accurate records.

Dr Kieran Hyder, who led the citizen science project, acknowledges that there is still some way to go before he achieves his ultimate vision of a global oceanographic resource that is developed and maintained through citizen science. He said: “To undertake a global science programme that could generate this information would be hugely expensive, but there are millions of sport and commercial dives every year. Making use of just a small fraction of those dives will greatly increase our knowledge of what is happening world-wide.

“This has been a very successful proof of concept. The next stage is to work with dive computer manufacturers, potential user groups, diving organisations and the divers themselves to improve the quality of the information and the user experience.

“The potential of scuba divers to contribute to ocean monitoring is huge and I believe that this study demonstrates only the tip of the iceberg. I would encourage all scuba divers to get involved."

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