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XPRIZE Winners Meet with Japanese Prime Minister

Members of the GEBCO-Nippon Foundation Alumni Team have met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Wednesday, to explain the concept that won them the $4 million Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE for seafloor mapping and to talk about their shared vision to map the entire seafloor by 2030.

The GEBCO-NF Alumni Team, made up of international graduates of The Nippon Foundation/GEBCO Postgraduate Training Program at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), US, spoke with Prime Minister Abe about the technology that they developed, and how their model of international scientific cooperation can help to map the gaps that still remain in our understanding of the ocean floor.

They demonstrated their winning concept to Prime Minister Abe with scale replicas of the vessels that they used, as well as 3D visualizations of the data that they collected during the competition, and presented the Prime Minister with a copy of the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) 2019.

Sattiabaruth Seeboruth, an alumnus of the Class of 2017 from Mauritius, said: “Meeting with the Prime Minister and Mr. Sasakawa and having them recognize our efforts is truly unbelievable. I know this will be a momentous moment in my life; it really is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion.”

Dr Karolina Zwolak of Poland, who graduated from UNH in 2013, hoped the meeting would “consolidate the cooperation between ocean mappers around GEBCO, alongside scientists from Team KUROSHIO and Japanese officials, to continue the global effort of mapping the ocean floor.

The GEBCO-NF Alumni prevailed over teams from around the world to win the Ocean Discovery XPRIZE with their concept for fast, efficient, and cost-effective seafloor mapping.

Their entry utilized the SEA-KIT Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) Maxlimer, alongside the Kongsberg Maritime HUGIN Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) System, leveraging new and existing technologies to optimal effect. SEA-KIT was able to autonomously launch and recover the Kongsberg Maritime HUGIN AUV, rated to operate at depths of up to 4,500 meters in Round 2, and act as a communication link during the latter’s subsea survey operations.

The team also included Training Program alumni Dr Evgenia Bazhenova (Russia), Aileen Bohan (Ireland), Dr Mohamed Elsaied (Egypt), Andres Fitzcarrald (Peru), Tomer Ketter (Israel), Christina Lacerda (Brazil), Jaya Roperez (Philippines), Azmi Rosedee (Malaysia), Ivan Ryzhov (Russia), Hadar Sade (Israel), Neil Tinmouth (South Africa), Dr Rochelle Anne Wigley (US), and Dr Yulia Zarayskaya (Russia).

This win for the alumni-led team is a reflection of the ongoing investment in capacity-building by The Nippon Foundation, and reflects the passion of this global network to find solutions to help map our oceans”, said Dr Wigley, project director of the training program at UNH and an alumnus of the Class of 2008.

The team’s SEA-KIT vessel USV Maxlimer was named after UNH Nippon Foundation/GEBCO Postgraduate Training Program alumna Maxlimer Anziani Vallee, who passed away following a car accident in January 2017. Since being used in the team’s XPRIZE entry, the vessel has completed the world’s first international commercial uncrewed transit, successfully traversing the world’s busiest shipping lane to deliver a box of oysters from the UK to Belgium in May 2019, GEBCO-NF noted.

The Nippon Foundation is also jointly spearheading international efforts to map the entirety of the world’s ocean floor by the end of the next decade. The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project was launched by Sasakawa at the UN Oceans Conference in 2017, and more than 100 organisations are now contributing to the goal of producing a complete map.

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