Leading environmental, aerospace institutions pledge prize money to help save oceans

The Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE has awarded $250,000 to Team DuraFET for its development of advanced deep-sea pH sensor technologies.

Jul 23rd, 2015

SEATTLE, WA, July 23, 2015 -- The Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE, an educational nonprofit organization, has awarded $250,000 to Team DuraFET -- a collective of environmental and technology leaders from Honeywell Aerospace, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, and Sea-Bird Scientific -- for its development of advanced deep-sea pH sensor technologies (SeaFET, SeapHOx and Deep-Sea DuraFET).

The sensors allow scientists and oceanographers to accurately and easily observe ocean acidification and address potential threats to global marine ecosystems. This type of sensor technology is critical because rising levels of carbon in the atmosphere react in the ocean to create carbonic acid, resulting in increased ocean acidity. Ocean acidification can harm the ecological health of the world's oceans and the industries that depend on that ecosystem (see: "Ocean acidification has potential to degrade entire ecosystems, finds study").

Team DuraFET's sensor technologies are the result of a seven-year partnership to develop, test and successfully deploy a sensor that could provide precise pH measurements over year-long periods while remaining affordable and sustainable. The technology is based on Honeywell's solid-state Ion Sensitive Field Effect Transistor, which enables a more accurate and cost-effective approach to ocean chemical sensing.

The collective won the prize in the Accuracy category of the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE. It will donate the money to the Argo ocean observing program, with the goal of driving continued research into monitoring pH levels across varying ocean depths for months and years at a time. Argo is an international project dedicated to the observation of temperature and salinity of the earth's oceans. This donation will enable the organization to begin broadening its mission to include ocean acidification monitoring.

"The oceans are an essential natural resource whose resilience is being challenged by increasing acidity. What we don't know is how bad the problem is because the health of regions away from the coast is almost completely unobserved right now due to the logistics and costs of operating research ships," said Kenneth Johnson, senior scientist, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. "The DuraFET pH sensor allows for the robotic observing of non-coastal regions, serving as a low-cost, easy-to-deploy sentinel for ocean health. Currently, a network of these remarkable sensors is being created by the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling project program to observe the remote ecosystems of the Southern Ocean where susceptibility to acidification is greatest."

Dean Roemmich, professor of oceanography at Scripps and co-chair of the International Argo Steering Team, added, "The addition of stable biogeochemical sensors for pH and other measurements is a valuable new dimension to the Argo program. Our current global core measurements have so far been only temperature, salinity and ocean current. The addition of pH would give us a more comprehensive view of the ecological health of the global ocean."

Development of the oceanographic DuraFET sensors was supported by grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the National Ocean Partnership Program, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

See also:

"Ocean acidity increased by human-induced carbon dioxide, finds study"

"Ocean acidification endangers Alaska fisheries, communities, research shows"

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