$7 million contest boosts ocean discovery

Image: Submersible
An artist’s conception shows a submersible vehicle mapping the ocean depths. (Credit: XPRIZE)

The latest high-tech competition from XPRIZE is offering $7 million to promote new ways to map our planet’s final frontier: the depths of the ocean.

“Our oceans cover two-thirds of our planet’s surface and are a crucial global source of food, energy, economic security, and even the air we breathe, yet 95 percent of the deep sea remains a mystery to us,” Peter Diamandis, XPRIZE chairman and CEO, said in a news release. “In fact, we have better maps of the surface of Mars than we do of our own seafloor.”

The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is meant to accelerate innovation in deep-sea mapping. Diamandis unveiled the three-year competition today during the American Geophysical Society’s fall meeting in San Francisco. He was joined on stage by representatives of the contest’s sponsors, Shell and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The teams that enter the contest will have to complete a series of tasks, including making a map of the seafloor, producing high-resolution images of a specific object, and identifying archaeological, biological or geological features. The technologies have to work at depths of up to 4,000 meters (2.5 miles).

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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