UNH XPRIZE winners meet Japanese prime minister to discuss seafloor mapping

Friday, September 20, 2019

Members from the UNH team who won the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Sept. 18 to discuss their winning design from the international seafloor mapping challenge.

Rochelle Wigley, the team leader for the group that won the $4 million prize this summer, spoke with the prime minister about the technology they developed for the competition. Wigley and team member Karolina Zwolak used replicas of the vessels and 3D visualizations of the data collected during the competition to explain their design to Abe, and they presented him with a copy of the most recent version of the definitive map of the world’s seafloor. They also discussed a shared vision to map the entire seafloor by 2030.

"Meeting the prime minister was an enormous honor," Wigley says, "but I think, more importantly, it was a fitting recognition for all the work put into this Shell Ocean Discovery Challenge by all the team members. The more we can raise awareness of how little we know about the seafloor, the more likely we are to achieve these goals of understanding our ocean." 

The team was introduced to Abe by Yohei Sasakawa, the chairman of The Nippon Foundation which backed the team’s entry, and Mitsuyuki Unno, executive director of the Ocean Affairs division at The Nippon Foundation. The Japanese team that placed second in the XPRIZE competition, Team KUROSHIO, was also present at the meeting with the prime minister.

Zwolak says she was hopeful 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-Nippon Foundation Alumni Team’s winning concept has demonstrated that high-quality bathymetric data can be obtained inexpensively with little to no human involvement at sea. The team was based out of the UNH Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping.