Today, the latest XPRIZE competition was announced in Los Angeles, and this time the target is improving ocean health. Past XPRIZE efforts have focused on suborbital commercial spaceflight, efficient cars, and moon rovers.
According to a spokesperson, the new prize was unveiled:
On the heels of the successful Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup XCHALLENGE, the $2 million Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE aims to spur global innovators to develop accurate and affordable ocean pH sensors that will ultimately transform our understanding of ocean acidification, one of the gravest problems associated with the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).
Through this competition, brilliant innovators will improve our knowledge about ocean chemistry and of the ocean’s health, break through current limitations to stimulate investments in research and sensor technology, and propel the creation of new tools in the ocean services industry.
The world’s ocean absorbs about one quarter of the CO2 released by human beings. That absorption leads to formation of carbonic acid, which drives down the water’s pH (it makes it more acidic).
Current ocean pH sensors are expensive, so the scope and extent of the problem has thus far been poorly studied.
“Just as we have sensors to monitor our body’s vital signs, we need a device to help determine the acidity of our oceans before we can determine the best solution to improve its health,” Paul Bunje, senior director of the Oceans XPRIZE, said in a statement.
“To accomplish this, we hope to incent innovators around the world, across disciplines, to compete for this prize not only for the ecological benefits, but for the market potential worth far more than the prize purse itself,” he said.
The XPRIZE was founded in 1995 as a nonprofit prize program (formerly called the X Prize Foundation) to spur innovation around pressing global problems.
In 2004, Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne was awarded the $10 million Ansari X-Prize for spaceflight for soaring more than 100 kilometers (62 miles). As National Geographic magazine previously reported:
The prize was funded in part by Iranian-born engineers and entrepreneurs Anousheh and Amir Ansari. It was modeled after the Orteig Prize, which hotel financier Raymond Orteig created in 1919 to spur the first nonstop solo flight from New York to Paris. Some pilots died in early attempts, but in 1927, 25-year-old Charles Lindbergh succeeded in crossing the Atlantic and winning the lucrative $25,000 Orteig Prize.
Today, there are five XPRIZE groups: Learning, Exploration, Energy & Environment, Global Development, and Life Sciences. Active prizes include the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE, the $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE, and the $2.25 million Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE.
For this latest challenge on ocean health, the prize foundation teamed up with Wendy Schmidt, president of The Schmidt Family Foundation, which works on clean energy and stewardship of natural resources. Wendy Schmidt also founded Climate Central, an independent group of scientists and journalists working on global warming issues.
Wendy and her husband Eric Schmidt, who is chair of Google, also founded the Schmidt Ocean Institute in 2009 to support marine science.
The Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup XCHALLENGE had granted $1.4 million for efforts to improve remediation technologies. The first-place winner cleaned a spill almost four times the previous industry record.
Brian Clark Howard covers the environment for National Geographic. He previously served as an editor for TheDailyGreen.com and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for Popular Science, TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN, and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVAC, Green Lighting, Build Your Own Small Wind Power System, and Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater.