Tulane University is offering a $1 million prize to the team who comes up with the best solution for combating hypoxia-affected waters, the dead zones in the world’s lakes and oceans. Hypoxia is the oxygen depletion in water bodies caused by “excessive amounts of river-borne fertilizers and other nutrients.” Tulane’s grand challenge is a response to President Obama’s call for universities and philanthropies to step up and pursue innovative solutions to our most pressing environmental problems.

Coastal and inland lake ecosystems are increasingly threatened by hypoxia. While the Gulf of Mexico is famous for its growing dead zone, the issue is increasingly global, writes Tulane. “Nutrient enrichment can jeopardize the future of estuaries and coastal wetlands that depend on freshwater and sediment delivery for stability and persistence.”

Dead zones not only have an impact on the environment but also the economy. These unproductive areas “destabilize the businesses, families and communities that are sustained by fisheries.”

Clean water is vital to ecological, cultural, and economic health.

Phyllis Taylor, head of the Patrick F. Taylor foundation, who put up the million, said: “I believe a market based solution which rewards innovation and risk taking has the potential to create a sustainable and significant new technology for addressing hypoxia.”

Cristin Dorgelo, assistant director for Grand Challenges in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, said: “Prizes have led to breakthroughs ranging from Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight to new approaches to cleaning up oil spills.”

This is a great challenge because finding a solution clearly won’t be easy: “Solutions must meet a suite of simultaneous and sometimes conflicting needs – from protecting water resources and near-shore ecosystems to ensuring the capacity and vitality of agricultural productivity.”

The university writes that the prize will be awarded to a “testable, scaled and marketable operating model that significantly, efficiently and cost effectively reduces hypoxia.”

Landscape architects and planners should join interdisciplinary teams and enter the competition. They can help create the solutions that keep agricultural and stormwater runoff out of rivers and combat the dead zones.

Another competition for landscape architects: At the European Biennial of Landscape Architecture in Barcelona in October, one landscape created in the last five years will win the Rosa Barba European Landscape Prize, which comes with €15,000. Submit projects before April 11, 2014.