Contenders for Ocean XPrize get a real-world test in Seattle

Teams from around the world are competing at the Seattle Aquarium to develop new ocean-acidity sensors — and win $2 million in prizes.

There’s a new tank at the Seattle Aquarium, but it’s not populated by rockfish, anemones or other sea creatures.

Tucked out of public view on an open-air dock, the tank contains an array of metal cylinders and other gadgets suspended by wires in water circulating from Puget Sound.

The devices represent the hopes of 14 teams from around the world competing to build better ocean pH sensors — and take home $2 million in prize money.

It’s part of the latest initiative from the XPrize Foundation, best known for its attempts to revitalize space travel through high-profile contests. But since a team funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen took home the $10 million Ansari XPrize for suborbital flight in 2004, the foundation has branched into other fields, including ocean health.

One of the biggest threats to the world’s oceans is chemical changes that occur when carbon dioxide from power plants, cars and other human activity dissolves in the water, making it more acidic, said Paul Bunje, director of the Ocean Health XPrize competition.

But measuring those changes is challenging, and existing instruments are expensive and temperamental.

So the Ocean XPrize was launched to catalyze development of cheaper and more reliable alternatives. Out of a field of 77 entrants, the teams that made the first cut subjected their designs to a round of laboratory shakedowns in California. Beginning Feb. 7, the remaining 14 contestant groups carted their gear to Seattle for a monthlong test to determine how well the sensors perform in the fluctuating conditions of Puget Sound.

Sandi Doughton, Seattle Times, 15 February 2015. Full article.

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