How Acidic Are The Oceans?

It’s one of the key questions of the global warming puzzle, and the X Foundation is stepping in to incentivize the scientific world to invent a good way to monitor ocean pH:

Scientists know this is killing coral reefs and dissolving the shells of marine animals, but the overall danger of ocean acidification is still poorly understood. To fix that, the X Prize Foundation announced a new bounty this week: $2 million for anyone who can figure out how to figure out what all this extra CO2 is doing to the pH of our planet’s oceans.
Named the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X Prize, the 22-month competition is scheduled to kick off in early 2014 and name its winner(s) in 2015. The $2 million jackpot is divided into two purses, which can be won separately or by the same team. The X Prize Foundation provides this description of the potential winnings on its website:
  • Accuracy award ($750,000 first place, $250,000 second place): To the teams that navigate the entire competition to produce the most accurate, stable and precise pH sensors under a variety of tests.
  • Affordability award ($750,000 first place, $250,000 second place): To the teams that produce the least expensive, easy-to-use, accurate, stable and precise pH sensors under a variety of tests.
This is the latest of many such trophies from the X Prize Foundation, which launched in the 1990s with a $10 million contest aimed at spurring commercial space travel. (It was inspired by the Orteig Prize, a $25,000 jackpot won by aviator Charles Lindbergh when he flew across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927.) The original X Prize went to aerospace firm Scaled Composites in 2004, whose technology is now part of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two.
One the one hand, this is the sort of out-of-the-box technology strategy that could help the planet confront warming. On the other hand, it is sort of depressing that we have made the oceans about 30 percent acidic over the past 250 years without really bothering to understand what the implications might be. Humanity has never been skeptical enough about the potential impacts and unintended consequences of technology.

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