September 10, 2013
New X Prize Announced For Measuring Health Of The Ocean
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Global warming alarmists and deniers alike can probably agree on at least one thing: Scientists need the most accurate data and tools to make their climate assessments.
Climatologists have been warning that the world's oceans are becoming more acidic due to the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. With carbon dioxide emissions growing year after year, the resulting ocean acidification could have devastating consequences for coral reefs, shellfish and other sensitive sea creatures, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
"It is only in the last decade where scientists have begun to study ocean acidification, so our knowledge is really limited still," Paul Bunje, a senior director with the X Prize Foundation, told NBC News. "But we do know that we don't know enough, and we don't have the tools needed to even begin to measure it sufficiently — much less to begin to respond, to adapt to it, to implement local policies that might allow ocean acidification to be less harmful.”
According to Richard Feely, an ocean acidification expert at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, the pH of Earth’s oceans is rising by .02 units each year.
"That means that you have to have an instrument that you can rely on to be both precise and accurate for a very, very long period of time, so that you can actually see that signal," he explained.
Feely said the competition should result in the development of instruments that can be placed in the open oceans for years at a time. The premium tools available today cost about $25,000, require frequent recalibration, and only work near the ocean surface, Bunje said.
The X Prize Foundation has a history of spurring innovation in other scientific fields. In 2004, the foundation awarded a $10-million prize to SpaceShipOne as the world's first privately developed spacecraft. The SpaceShipOne craft was actually launched exactly 47 years after the Soviet Union put the world's first satellite, Sputnik 1, into orbit.
Like its predecessor, the recently announced Ocean Health X Prize is modeled after the $25,000 Orteig Prize that was won by trans-Atlantic pilot Charles Lindbergh in 1927. Lindbergh’s grandson Erik was a former member of the foundation’s board.
The latest prize is sponsored by Wendy Schmidt, president of the Schmidt Family Foundation and wife of Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt. A previous X Prize competition, the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge, awarded $1.3 million in prizes to two teams in 2011 that devised ways to improve on oil spill cleanup techniques.
The new competition will award $1 million to a team that can create a low-cost pH sensor that favorably competes with current instruments and another $1 million to a team that builds the most accurate sensor made of less than $10,000 in materials.
"Now, if a team comes up with the ability to be the most accurate and the most affordable at the same time — Holy Grail, that's phenomenal," Bunje said. "We are leaving the door open for that to exactly happen."