Ocean acidification has reached record levels, so the deep-pocketed Board of XPRIZE are at it again – using “incentivization” to spark technological breakthroughs to “benefit humanity”. They’re holding out a pair of $1 million carrots to tempt everyone to conjure up a better sensor to measure ocean acidification – a malady caused by our continual pumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
A quarter of all that gas gets absorbed by the oceans, changing the water chemistry – making it more acidic, with dire consequences.
“A good number of ocean scientists say ocean acidification is the biggest threat to ocean health,” Paul Bunje, the lead scientist behind the ocean health prize, told Live Science. It threatens aquatic ecosystems, in turn harming sea-life. Seem a far-away problem? Consider the knock-on impact to our bellies and wallets, as acidification destroys fisheries and tourism sites that depend on thriving marine ecosystems.
Technology for gauging acidification is inadequate or expensive. “Because of the under-investment in ocean science and research, there aren’t enough tools present to measure what’s happening in the sea,” said Bunje. “We’ve mapped the dark side of the moon and Mars to higher resolution than the bottom of the ocean.”
Enter the folks at XPRIZE. Last September they launched the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPrize to incite development of either the most accurate or the most affordable ocean pH sensors. Anyone can compete, and teams or individuals can register for the competition until June 30.
The competition has three phases. In September, teams will be allowed three months to lab-test their devices. In February, trials will be held at the Seattle Aquarium in Washington state.
Finally, in spring 2015, finalists will test their devices off the coast of Hawaii, at depths of nearly 10,000 feet – 50% deeper than any pH sensor has ever been tested.
Seventy teams from 19 countries have registered so far, ranging from academics, commercial enterprise, home tinkerers and high school clubs. You still have time to get in on the action!
XPRIZE is an innovation engine led by visionaries that include Elon Musk, James Cameron, Larry Page, Arianna Huffington, and Ratan Tata. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, this non-profit conducts public competitions to encourage technological development for the good of the planet.
According to their website, they believe that tapping into the “indomitable spirit of competition brings about breakthroughs and solutions that once seemed unimaginable.”
Rather than throwing money at a problem, they incentivize solutions and challenge the world to solve it. Contest themes are audacious but achievable, and tied to measurable goals.
An earlier X Challenge, prompted by the 2010 BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, was a $1.4 million competition to develop better technology for cleaning up oil spills. The winning team developed a solution that was four times better than the industry standard, Bunje said. They plan on launching more competitions focused on ocean health.
“By 2020, we could move away from an unhealthy state and be on an unstoppable path to healthy oceans,” Bunje said.
Image of healthy coral reef from Shutterstock