Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles



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Remote Sensing



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sea surface temperature, Smartfin, thermal radiometry, remote sensing, validation, citizen science, surfers


The accuracy and precision of satellite sea surface temperature (SST) products in nearshore coastal waters are not well known, owing to a lack of in-situ data available for validation. It has been suggested that recreational watersports enthusiasts, who immerse themselves in nearshore coastal waters, be used as a platform to improve sampling and fill this gap. One tool that has been used worldwide by surfers is the Smartfin, which contains a temperature sensor integrated into a surfboard fin. If tools such as the Smartfin are to be considered for satellite validation work, they must be carefully evaluated against state-of-the-art techniques to quantify data quality. In this study, we developed a Simple Oceanographic floating Device (SOD), designed to float on the ocean surface, and deployed it during the 28th Atlantic Meridional Transect (AMT28) research cruise (September and October 2018). We attached a Smartfin to the underside of the SOD, which measured temperature at a depth of ∼0.1 m, in a manner consistent with how it collects data on a surfboard. Additional temperature sensors (an iButton and a TidbiT v2), shaded and positioned a depth of ∼1 m, were also attached to the SOD at some of the stations. Four laboratory comparisons of the SOD sensors (Smartfin, iButton and TidbiT v2) with an accurate temperature probe (±0.0043 K over a range of 273.15 to 323.15 K) were also conducted during the AMT28 voyage, over a temperature range of 290–309 K in a recirculating water bath. Mean differences (δ), referenced to the temperature probe, were removed from the iButton (δ=0.292 K) and a TidbiT v2 sensors (δ=0.089 K), but not from the Smartfin, as it was found to be in excellent agreement with the temperature probe (δ=0.005 K). The SOD was deployed for 20 min periods at 62 stations (predawn and noon) spanning 100 degrees latitude and a gradient in SST of 19 K. Simultaneous measurements of skin SST were collected using an Infrared Sea surface temperature Autonomous Radiometer (ISAR), a state-of-the-art instrument used for satellite validation. Additionally, we extracted simultaneous SST measurements, collected at slightly different depths, from an underway conductivity, temperature and depth (CTD) system. Over all 62 stations, the mean difference (δ) and mean absolute difference (ϵ) between Smartfin and the underway CTD were −0.01 and 0.06 K respectively (similar results obtained from comparisons between Smartfin and iButton and Smartfin and TidbiT v2), and the δ and ϵ between Smartfin and ISAR were 0.09 and 0.12 K respectively. In both comparisons, statistics varied between noon and predawn stations, with differences related to environmental variability (wind speed and sea-air temperature differences) and depth of sampling. Our results add confidence to the use of Smartfin as a citizen science tool for evaluating satellite SST data, and data collected using the SOD and ISAR were shown to be useful for quantifying near-surface temperature gradients.







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R.J.W.B., W.W. and G.D. were supported by the European Space Agency AMT4OceanSatFlux project. P.J.B., T.C. and A.J.A. received financial support from the non-profit Lost Bird project.

The data used in this study is freely available through the British Oceanographic Data Centre ( accessed on 23 February 2021). The European Space Agency is acknowledged for their funding and contributions to the collection of the ISAR data on AMT28.

Additional Comments

We thank the officers, scientists and crew of RRS James Clark Ross who helped in the acquisition of AMT28 data and all those involved with data collection. We thank in particular the Principal Scientific Officer Glen Tarran, and the RRS James Clark Ross IT technician Sean Vincent and the AME technician Sean Quirk, for their support during the deployments of scientific equipment. The Atlantic Meridional Transect is funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council through its National Capability Long-term Single Centre Science Programme, Climate Linked Atlantic Sector Science (grant number NE/R015953/1). This study contributes to the international IMBeR project and is contribution number 361 of the AMT programme.

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