In a scientific expedition to study how the icy currents of Antarctic waters impact global climate, British scientists launched a robotic submarine late last month with a famous name to collect data.
The autonomous underwater vehicle, Boaty McBoatface, is the first of the National Oceanography Centre’s line of new unmanned vehicles sent to measure these interactions in abyssal waters.
“We will measure how fast the streams flow, how turbulent they are, and how they respond to changes in winds over the Southern Ocean,” the expedition’s lead research scientist, professor Alberto Naveira Garabato, told the British Antarctic Survey in March.
Garabato said a driving force of deep ocean warming, at least in the Atlantic, is the changes in winds over the Southern Ocean.
“Current evidence suggests that changing winds over the Southern Ocean affect the speed of seafloor currents carrying [Antarctic Bottom Water],” the British Antarctic Survey reported.
The speed of these currents determines the turbulence of their flow around underwater mountain ranges. A faster flow is more turbulent and could result in more heat being mixed into the deeper waters from shallower, warmer ocean layers.
Through the use of the unmanned submersible, the team hopes to learn about these processes and represent them with scientific models for the first time in history.
The National Oceanography Centre, or NOC, developed three vehicles under the publicly-named Boaty McBoatface moniker following a campaign by the Natural Environmental Research Council.
The research efforts will be conducted in a partnership between University of Southamptom NOC scientists and the British Antarctic Survey.
“Engineers from the NOC will assist the team of researchers to assess water flow and underwater turbulence in the Orkney Passage, a region of the Southern Ocean around 3,500 meters deep and roughly 500 miles from the Antarctic Peninsula,” NOC reported.
The Autosub Long Range class of robotic vehicles were engineered for deep sea exploration and will be used to determine how the Antarctic Bottom Water, or AABW, affects global climate.
Each machine offers a range of configuration capabilities that can be used for varying scientific tasks, according to a recent BBC report.
“The deployment of Autosub Long Range in the Antarctic expands our robotic vehicle capability and places us at the forefront of AUV development,” said Dr Maaten Furlong, the organization’s head of marine autonomous and robotic systems.
In conjunction with a research ship, the RRS James Clark Ross, Boaty will take measurements of the ocean currents. The use of specialized instruments deployed from the ship and those moored along the sea floor will provide additional data.
The project is funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council, but its polar research ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, is still under construction.
The Dynamics of the Orkney Passage Outflow, or DynOPO, expedition began on March 17, as the research ship departed from Punta Arenas, Chile. The DynOPO project will provide the team with a high-resolution dataset.
By better understanding the causes of warming in abyssal waters, scientists can then determine how it plays an important role in moderating the ongoing increases in atmospheric temperature and sea level across the world, BAS reported.