In DepthMarine Geology

Seafloor mappers to compete for XPRIZE

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Science  02 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6414, pp. 507-508
DOI: 10.1126/science.362.6414.507

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Next week, the first of eight teams will send an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) into the deepest part of the Mediterranean Sea, as it competes over the next few months in the finals of the $7 million Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE. The goal: better seafloor maps. So far, just 18% of the world's ocean bottom has been surveyed at all, often at a resolution so coarse that volcanoes would have no trouble hiding. The rest—four-fifths of the two-thirds of the planet covered by water—is virtually unknown. XPRIZE hopes the competition will spur advances in AUVs, which can use sonar and lasers to map the sea floor better, faster, and more cheaply than the traditional approach, using sonar on large research ships. Sharper pictures could help companies look for resources such as oil, but geologists and biologists want better maps, too, to study volcanic activity along midocean ridges and to identify deep-sea habitats.