Deep-sea trials underway for Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE

2015-05-15-1431721903-8754010-Teams_Deck-thumbThe final phase of the $2 million Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE is underway in the open ocean off Hawaii. An all-star team of oceanographers, marine technicians, XPRIZE staffers and our five finalist teams are headed out to sea for the culmination of a global competition to create accurate and affordable ocean pH sensors.

The remaining teams successfully completed two previous rounds of testing to measure the precision and stability of their sensors and were selected by a panel of judges to advance to deep-sea trials off the shores of Oahu onboard the R/V Kilo Moana.

During deep-sea testing, each sensor will attempt to accurately measure pH at depths of up to 3,000 meters. The efforts of these teams, both during and after this competition, will help revolutionize our understanding of one of the ocean’s greatest threats: acidification.

The five finalist teams representing four countries are:

ANB Sensors (Cambridge, England), a team of scientists and researchers from the Schlumberger Gould Research Center with expertise in lasers, chemistry, fluid mechanics and geophysics.

HpHS (Yokosuka, Japan), a team of research scientists and engineers from the Kimoto Electric Co., Ltd. and Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC).

Sunburst Sensors (Missoula, Mont., U.S.), a team of mechanical engineers from Sunburst Sensors, LLC, a company focused on the development of chemical sensors for marine and freshwater applications.

Team Durafet (Plymouth, Minn., U.S.), a team comprised of representatives from Sea-Bird Scientific, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego and Honeywell Aerospace Advanced Technology group.

Team XYLEM (Bergen, Norway/Beverly, Mass., U.S.), a team representing two Xylem companies, Aanderaa Data Instruments in Norway and YSI in the U.S., with extensive work in commercializing high performance and reliable optical chemical sensors used in oceanography.

All of these teams get along well — maybe a little too well. They’ve spent a lot of time together, far more than teams in previous XPRIZE competitions. My primary job is to manage the teams, and when I first began working with them, I expected I’d have to breakup a headlock put on an engineer by a marine chemist. After all, these are savage oceanographers in a cutthroat quest for a $2 million purse. Alas, this friendly group has turned the competition into more of a “co-op-itition.” They share technical information, and in the close quarters of a research vessel, some are even sharing rooms.

Today, we headed out to sea, sailing from the University of Hawaii Marine Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. After a quick two-hour trip, we stopped at our first testing station in the protected waters off the coast of Oahu, flanked by rugged mountains and surrounded by the shimmering Pacific. The small waves provided a good place for shallow trial runs of 50 and 250 meters. Tonight, we sail to station ALOHA (A Long-Term Oligotrophic Habitat Assessment), roughly 100 miles off of Hawaii.

Tomorrow is when things really heat up: the teams will have to make sure each cast into the depths counts, because good data could turn into good money. Aloha from a starry night in the North Pacific! Man, do I love the ocean!

Matt Huelsenbeck (XPRIZE), The Huffington Post, 15 May 2015. Article.

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