Tulane University announced on Monday that it would offer a $1M prize to any entrepreneurs, inventors or researchers that can come up with a market-driven solution to the “dead zones” that arise in the Gulf of Mexico, and elsewhere around the world, every year.
Dead zones are caused by hypoxia, a condition in which vast areas of water are depleted of oxygen and thus unable to support any marine life. In the Gulf of Mexico, the cause of these dead zones can largely be traced to the agricultural lands of the 33 states for which the Mississippi River is the main drainage point. Excess nutrients from fertilizer runoff and sewers enter the Gulf and cause a boom in micro-organisms like plankton and algae, which feed off of these nutrients. As these massive micro-populations die, the process of decomposition sucks the oxygen in surrounding water, killing other marine life that cannot escape the so-called dead zone.Scientists attribute nitrogen-rich fertilizer runoff as the main cause of hypoxia and have measured dead zones in the Gulf ranging from 6,500 sq. mi. to 8,500 sq. mi. (the size of New Jersey). More than just a serious environmental concern, dead zones jeopardize economies and workers dependent on fisheries close to shore, as in Louisiana, Mississippi and other Gulf states.
The Tulane competition is focused on solutions that cut to the problem at its source, so hopeful contestants should be testing solutions out in the fields, not on the water.
The $1M grand prize, funded by Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, will be awarded to the team with the best testable, scalable and market-driven technical solution to the problem of hypoxia. Tulane has enlisted Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain as project partners.