Phil Bresnahan a sixth-year PhD student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego contacted and told us about how he was using paddle boards to move his research from the classroom to the water. We tracked him down for a quick interview after that day he took his class on the water.
What gave you the idea to mix science with paddleboards?
“About five years ago, I was sitting outside near the Scripps Pier, drinking a cup of coffee, admiring the waves, and chatting with my friend Tim Ray about ideas for sharing our passion for the ocean with others. Both of us being avid outdoor athletes—with a strong pull toward watersports—as well as oceanography graduate students, we wanted to do something a little different when presenting our research. We wanted to talk about science with others where we actually do the science: on the ocean. Five years ago, it was just an idea and a fun conversation. But on Earth Day 2015 (April 22), I spent the morning at Mission Bay High School in San Diego, teaching Marine Science class from an Isle Surf and SUP paddleboard, the truest sign that the conversation has become a reality.”
“We wanted to talk about science with others where we actually do the science: on the ocean.”
What is the project all about?
“This project, named SUP, Science, is all about getting people of all ages, especially middle and high school students, as close to marine science as is physically possible. That is, doing science—marine chemistry, to be specific—on the water, on SUPs. It’s not just a matter of going out and chatting about scientific issues (although, there’s no shortage of important ocean topics to talk about!). We are actually using the paddleboards to make chemical measurements that help us understand ocean health. “
“Professor Todd Martz (my advisor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego) has been inventing cutting-edge pH sensors to measure ocean acidity for over a decade. Our research group’s latest contribution, the WavepHOx, is an ocean pH and oxygen sensor (hence “pHOx”), specifically designed to cut through waves when mounted to an SUP. Using this sensor, we can go out and collect data on levels of ocean acidity very close to shore and in fragile ecosystems where larger, more sophisticated research vessels can’t easily go.”
“the WavepHOx, is an ocean pH and oxygen sensor specifically designed to cut through waves when mounted to an SUP”
What should we be worrying about?
“Ocean acidity is rapidly increasing as a result of human activity. The carbon dioxide that we put in the atmosphere by driving and using non-renewably-produced electricity ends up dissolving in the ocean to form an acid. It’s a lot like acid rain, but in the ocean, and it’s happening so quickly that it’s making it harder for shell-forming creatures (think corals, oysters, sea-butterflies (yes, that’s a thing)) to build their shells. In other words, they’re having a harder time surviving because of the way that we produce our energy. The good news—in fact, great news—is that we now know that we’re harming the environment (that part’s not good) and that we can actually DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT (that’s the good part). Even better, the things that help the environment are generally good for us too. Things like spending more time playing in the ocean instead of playing video games. Things like paddling, biking, or running to work instead of driving. “
How do you collect data?
“SUP, Science is an attempt to measure this impact and to spread the word about global change, while having fun. Fortunately, that last part is pretty easy when you work on stand-up paddleboards. The Isle inflatable SUP has been extremely helpful in my research because it allows me to be much faster on both water and land. I have a heavy backpack full of scientific equipment with me, so it’s nice to have a lightweight but durable board that I can quickly roll up and bring with me just about anywhere. I frequently have to paddle in close to the breaking waves and rocks, making it really important to have a stable platform that won’t ding or get easily damaged while I’m focusing on the scientific goals. “
“It’s nice to have a lightweight but durable board that I can quickly roll up and bring with me just about anywhere.”
SUP, Science really only has one message: Protect the ocean. Paddle more.
Learn more about Phil’s research with Isle Stand Up Paddle Boards: