Latest X Prize aims to measure acid in oceans

The $2 million challenge tasks competitors with accurately measuring ocean acidification, a step toward improving the health of our seas and inspiring new market-based uses of the oceans.

Pollution litters the Pacific Ocean. CBS

Our oceans are becoming critically polluted, with acidification threatening the health and biodiversity of the world's largest bodies of water. But no one knows exactly how bad the problem is.

That's the problem that the latest X Prize, known as the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health Challenge, aims to solve. Competitors will compete for $2 million in prize money that will go to the team or teams that best come up with systems for measuring the pH level of the oceans.

Half the prize money will be awarded for the most accurate sensors, while the other half will go to the team that comes up with the most affordable solution.

"We don't have the data that allows us to understand and allow to respond," said Paul Bunje, the senior director of oceans at the X Prize Foundation. "New developments are moving slowly forward, but...we lack the ability to (deploy) these things around the world."

Bunje explained that the goals behind the challenge are two-fold. One the one hand, competitors will seek to make the most accurate, strong, and affordable pH sens will create accurate, robust, and affordable ocean-based pH sensors. And on the other, Bunje is hopeful that better measurement of the acidification of the oceans will "ignite an industry in ocean data, ocean analytics, and ocean services, [creating] value not just for scientists, but to anyone who uses the sea."

As Bunje put it, X Prizes are not just meant to solve a problem, but also to help catalyze new industries, even while educating the public about some of the issues that most bedevil us.

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