Attention heroes: who will save the world’s oceans?

The planet has five major oceans. A lesser known fact is that the acidity in the ocean is contributing to the die-off of shellfish populations and the bleaching of coral reefs. Imagine no shells at the beach. Or no oysters and salmon — other species currently at risk.

The cause? Excess emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are causing changes in the chemistry of the world’s oceans.

This weekend, at the X Prize Foundation’s Visioneering Conference, Wendy Schmidt, President of the Schmidt Family Foundation and spouse of Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, announced her intent to sponsor a prize to address the issue.

The X Prize Foundation creates competitions for big ideas, focused on solving the world’s grand challenges.

To compete in the Ocean Health X Prize, winners must: Build and demonstrate the most accurate and reliable deep ocean pH sensors to help measure the global effects of climate change on the world’s oceans.

Current pH sensor technology can only make accurate measurements in shallow waters or in isolated samples of the deeper seas. The prize is seeking improvements in the speed, depth tolerance, and lifetime of autonomous pH sensors.

Schmidt previously sponsored a $1.4 million Oil Cleanup X Prize, in reaction to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “When that oil spill occurred, it was so distressing. It was emotional. When the call came out to address the clean-up of it, it was a no-brainer for me. What I didn’t understand was how inspiring it would be to get such a response to that challenge,” she said.

“When I met the teams who made it to the finals, it was so moving because they were motivated not for money. They were motivated to help fix something. There was a team from Alaska, who had been victimized by the Exxon Valdez spill — and they just wanted to fix it. They didn’t win, but they put everything they had into it.”

Schmidt also mentioned market failures, emphasizing that there are holes where government and big industries are missing critical needs.

“The team that won from Carmi, Illinois, had been in the industry, had wanted to advance the technology for it, but told me there was no market for it. In fact, the winning technology had been on the drafting table two years before. So there’s a failure in the market, a failure in regulation to even want to do this stuff better. The thinking is: It’s good enough to pick up 50% of the oil. Is it good enough?”

Lori Kozlowski, Forbes, 23 April 2012. Full article.


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