The mysterious house in which we live: celebrating the beauty of our oceans

Yesterday was World Oceans Day. A day to reflect on the beauty, vastness, and glory of our Oceans. It was a day to celebrate what the oceans do for us – they provide us with life, food, and medicines; they control our weather and climate; they protect us and are a major driver of the global economy; they provide us with inspiration; they even enable you to read this article, because 99% of our internet runs through underwater cables.

But how much do we really know about the oceans?

Imagine you live in an amazingly beautiful three-story home, but you only really know what is in the basement. The other two floors are a complete mystery. Who else lives in the house? What other treasures are there to find? Is there new food or medicine, or even windows that would show you wonderful sights? This is our house – the earth. We really only know about 1/3 of our planet. The bulk of the remaining 2/3, our oceans, are still largely unknown.

One reason we have not explored these other two “floors” is because, like space, it’s a difficult place for humans to live and work. We cannot see, understand and care for our house without the appropriate tools and technologies. That’s why XPRIZE, the global leader in incentivized prize competitions, has set out to unlock the mysteries of our oceans through the XPRIZE Ocean Initiative.

Very little is known about Ocean Acidification. What little we do know comes from laboratory-based studies and limited sea studies near the ocean surface. We still do not fully understand what is going on in the coastal waters, where there are many other stressors, and we’re unable to research the ecosystem of the deep ocean because we simply don’t have sufficient tools.

We do know that increased CO2 emissions has caused our oceans’ acidity to reach previously unmeasured levels. But unfortunately, we lack the appropriate technology to accurately measure and monitor acidification, especially in the depths of the ocean.

Knowing this, XPRIZE created the $2 million Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE to galvanize brilliant innovators to develop an accurate, robust, and affordable ocean pH sensor to help us better understand the effects of climate change on our world’s oceans – the first step on the path to improving ocean health and unlocking the markets of the ocean services industry.

The prize is made up of two purses – $1 million for the most accurate sensor, to allow scientists to make automated measurements of pH throughout the ocean in order to get a better understanding of the phenomenon, from the surface and the coastal waters to the deep. The other purse, also for $1 million, is for affordability, which would allow a wider range of users – from environmental mangers to oyster farmers – the ability to quickly monitor and respond to changing conditions.

Currently, teams from over 15 countries have expressed an interest in competing. Some of these innovators are experts in oceanography, and others are from nontraditional fields such as nanotechnology, biomedicine, and chemical engineering – bringing new and interesting approaches to addressing the issue.

I hope that you’ll take this World Ocean’s Day to celebrate the beauty and mystery of our oceans and join XPRIZE in capitalizing on our technical abilities and human ingenuity to explore the other “two floors” of our amazing planet!

Jyotika Virmani, Huffington Post, 9 June 2014. Article.

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