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Submersible in ocean
An artist’s conception shows a submersible vehicle mapping the depths of the ocean. (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 Union’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).

A $4 million grand prize and $1 million second-place prize have been set aside for the qualified teams that demonstrate the highest-resolution seafloor mapping. Up to 10 teams will share $1 million in prizes when they advance to the contest’s final round.

NOAA is offering a $1 million bonus prize for the team that can trace a chemical or biological signal to its source. NOAA chief scientist Richard Spinrad said the goal of the bonus prize is to “identify technology that can aid in detecting sources of pollution, enable rapid response to leaks and spills, identify hydrothermal vents and methane seeps, as well as track marine life for scientific research and conservation efforts,”

Check the competition’s website to get further information and register your intent to compete. The deadline for signing up is Sept. 30. Between now and then, the XPRIZE organizers will be working out the detailed rules and regulations.

The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE follows up on earlier contests that focused on oil spill cleanup and ocean health. XPRIZE’s track record also includes multimillion-dollar competitions boosting private-sector spaceflight, lunar exploration, super-efficient automobiles, carbon dioxide conversion systems, Tricorder-type medical diagnostic devices and educational technologies.

An earlier version of this report mistakenly referred to the American Geophysical Union as the American Geophysical Society.

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