UW News

October 15, 2015

Oceanography consortium donates XPrize winnings to UW sensor lab

UW News

A team of industrial, academic and nonprofit institutions that was among the top finishers of the recent ocean acidification XPrize is donating its winnings to a University of Washington lab that helps track ocean conditions worldwide.

The donation, made Oct. 13 during an event at the UW College of the Environment and announced by Honeywell, will allow the UW and the international Argo program to begin broadening observations to include ocean acidification.

The donation is winnings from the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPrize, a global challenge to develop cheap, accurate and efficient tests for seawater acidity. Members of the UW’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean helped to administer the 22-month contest, which included tests in February at the Seattle Aquarium. The consortium had previously announced plans to donate its $250,000 winnings.

The UW group is the only lab in the world to already use the prize-winning, pressure-tolerant Honeywell DuraFET pH sensor in its oceanic instruments. The UW lab is one of the major suppliers of autonomous ocean-sensing floats to the international Argo observing program, a consortium of 30 nations that monitors the temperature and salinity of the upper 2 kilometers (1.3 miles) of the world’s oceans.

An Argo float deployed by the University of Washington.

One of thousands of Argo floats built and deployed by the UW.University of Washington

The UW Argo group, led by oceanography professor Stephen Riser, builds sensors to detect ocean conditions far from coasts and in extreme conditions. This donation, he said, will have a major impact on the project’s ability to detect ocean acidification worldwide.

“Beyond the immediate proximity of the coasts, we have no real idea of how large acidification might be, either now or in the future, largely due to a lack of observations,” Riser said. “Being able to make high-quality measurements of pH from the sea surface to a depth of 2 kilometers, at sites from the equator to the poles, represents a huge advance in our ability to study ocean acidification and the oceanic carbon cycle.”

four people in front of banner

Representatives from Sea-Bird Scientific and Honeywell Aerospace join Dean Lisa Graumlich and Professor Ginger Armbrust at the Oct. 13 ceremony.John Meyer/University of Washington

The prize for second place in the accuracy category was won in July by Team DuraFET, a collaboration of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, California; Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California; Sea-Bird Scientific of Bellevue, Washington; and Honeywell Aerospace, an international company based in New Jersey.

Development of the oceanographic DuraFET sensors was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanographic Partnership Program and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. The UW profiling float project is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation.


For more information, contact Riser at 206-543-1187 or riser@ocean.washington.edu.