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Scuba divers can act as citizen scientists and provide vital information about ocean temperatures, according to a newly published study in Nature’s online journal Scientific Reports.

Led by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) based in Lowestoft, what was said to be the first citizen-science project of its kind indicated that considerable benefits could be derived by compiling temperature profiles from divers’ computers.

“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,” said lead author Dr Serena Wright.

Funded by government department DEFRA, CEFAS collaborated with the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) of Oban to develop a website, Diveintoscience.org. It used the site to collect more than 7600 temperature records from sport-divers.

Comparisons made by “diving” computers alongside scientific instruments and with satellite measurements of water temperature showed that the computers could provide accurate data.

“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,” said Dr Kieran Hyder, who led the citizen-science project. “Making use of just a small fraction of those dives will greatly increase our knowledge of what is happening worldwide.
“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.”

Dr Martin Sayer of SAMs added: “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 results of the survey can be found here and the Diveintoscience website is here 

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