Tech: Real time wave monitoring by Surf Sense
OK, hypothetical time: Imagine sitting in the surf at your local break and you feel a vibration, you look down at your watch which tells you a large set will arrive in thirty seconds, it'll contain five waves, and the third wave will be the largest.
Now before you start jumping up and down - either in excitement or anger - read this article through to the end.
Sydney surfer Nathan Adler has been working on just such technology. Adler is a graduate of UNSW, where he completed an Engineering/Commerce degree and dreamt up a wild idea.
The technology is called Surf Sense and it consists of a buoy sitting a few hundred metres or so off the beach - or any reef, or rockshelf, or point. The buoy measures local wave readings and it sends live updates to anyone able to receive them.
This is possible through highly-sensitive GPS positioning, which combined with data from an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) is able to determine centimetre-accurate ocean movements. With this it can measure individual waves and resolve multiple competing swells. The buoy has enough battery life to last for up to a month, with solar charging to allow for extended deployments.
The data can be transmitted in real time to a users device. The various information it can measure include:
- absolute wave height
- peak-trough height
- steepness of the wave of both the front and back faces
- width and/or volume of the wave
- horizontal displacement of the water through the wave
- speed of the wave
- a descriptor or value representative of an overall shape (or anticipated breaking shape) of a wave
- as well as other qualitative/quantitative characteristics
If you're thinking Surf Sense is much like a hi resolution buoy then you're on the right track. Rather than 'regional' buoys with delayed data, Surf Sense is highly specific and in real time. It can also be calibrated for various uses and/or surf breaks.
Of greatest interest - or concern, depending upon which way you look at it - is the ability to decipher how many waves are in an approaching set, which is the biggest wave, and how does it compare to previous sets.
For surfers the applications are obvious (though logistically very difficult), however some potential applications are altruistic. Rock fisherman, or even people who work near the ocean, would get a heads up about approaching sets and prepare accordingly.
The buoy has already been tested off Bondi, and it's now positioned off Snapper Rocks collecting data in the lead up and during the Quiksilver Pro. The data won't be available to any of the competitors or the WSL but will be monitored closely to correlate the observed data and subsequent wave scoring potential as the set hits the Superbank.
Beyond its usefulness to recreational surfers, it's in the competitve arena that Surf Sense provides some exciting possibilities. Properly applied, it becomes another tool for WSL commentators to build suspense and weigh in on judging decisions, and for webcast producers to plan ad breaks.