Ocean Acidification Sensors Win the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X-Prize

We welcome this first Watermark post by Lisa Suatoni, senior scientist in the oceans program at the Natural Resources Defense Council whose work includes ocean acidification and sustainable fisheries management. This article also appears on her blog at NRDC’s Switchboard. For more about and by Lisa follow this link.

Three engineering teams win for developing new affordable and accurate ocean pH sensors at the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X-Prize! This is the much needed first step to combatting and preparing for a changing ocean.

When carbon dioxide is released from the burning of fossil fuels, only a portion of it remains in the atmosphere where it drives climate change. Approximately a quarter of it dissolves in the seas and becomes carbonic acid, progressively lowering seawater pH and carbonate ion levels. Scientists refer to the steady shift in ocean chemistry as ocean acidification. It poses a great risk to marine species and ecosystems and the humans that depend on them.

Scientists have been aware of the risk of climate change for over a century; they have been studying it diligently for the past 50 years. But ocean acidification, the second global impact from rising carbon dioxide emissions, proceeded undetected for much of that time.

One reason why ocean acidification went largely unnoticed for all of this time is because it is difficult to measure. Fortunately – with the announcement of the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X-prize winners – this important scientific enterprise just got a lot easier.

The winning team of engineers developed sensors that can measure ocean pH with the highest accuracy, but at greatly reduced cost compared to previous instruments.

Now we need to get busy deploying these sensors around the world in regions (and aquaculture facilities) vulnerable to ocean acidification (e.g., see vulnerable coastal communities in the U.S.).

The world’s oceans are the heart of our planet. They regulate our climate, produce half of our oxygen, and feed the world. By fundamentally changing our oceans (their temperature, oxygen content, and pH) we are changing the way our planet functions. Just as a doctor monitors a patient, we need to be monitoring the ocean’s vital signs.

Now is the time to invest in a global monitoring network. These new pH sensors will help us realize that goal. My hat’s off to Wendy Schmidt, the X-Prize Foundation, and all of the engineers who competed for this important X-Prize!