Our favourite autonomous underwater automobile, Boaty McBoatface, has accomplished a two-month mission during which it explored a large ice shelf in Antarctica’s southern Weddell Sea. Swimming practically a kilometer beneath the floor, and with hardly any human help or oversight, Boaty spent over 50 hours instantly beneath the Antarctic ice.
Boaty accomplished its inaugural mission in June of 2017, however the sub has now moved on to larger, and more difficult, issues. As a part of the UK’s Filchner Ice Shelf System (FISS) Venture, it was despatched deep beneath the floor, exploring the darkish and mysterious underbelly of the outsized floating glacier. Throughout January and February of this yr, Boaty traveled 67 miles (108 km) in whole, diving to depths of three,100 toes (944 meters). It spent 51 hours instantly beneath the Antarctic ice, and 20 hours exploring a bit of ice measuring 1,804 toes (550 meters) thick.
The Filchner Ice Shelf packs extra ice than some other, extending throughout an space 173,746 sq. miles (450,000 sq. km) in measurement, which is barely bigger than all of Germany. The purpose of the mission, which includes researchers from the Nationwide Oceanography Centre (NOC), the British Antarctic Survey, Oxford College, and different UK-based establishments, is to find out how a lot glacial ice is drifting into the ocean, and to realize a greater understanding of how water is mixing and behaving throughout the entrance of the shelf. Finally, scientists need to have the ability to generate correct sea-level projections for the following 50 years.
That is the place the autonomous yellow submarine is available in. Boaty McBoatface could have a humorous identify, however it’s really a really severe piece of apparatus. The UAV is armed with sensors to measure the salinity and temperature of the water, and it could possibly measure ocean turbulence and the pace of water currents as much as 262 toes (80 meters) above and beneath its place. Boaty may also detect the quantity of phytoplankton within the water and measure the depth of the seabed beneath.
For the FISS workforce, the mission wasn’t with out dangers. As Boaty ventured up and down the steep vertical partitions, it was susceptible to being struck by falling chunks of ice. Altering currents may have confused its on-board navigation techniques, inflicting it to crash proper into the shelf. The mission was made much more fraught by advantage of the truth that workforce members aboard the help ship RV Polarstern weren’t capable of talk with Boaty for 90 p.c of its time underneath water.
“We knew that the surroundings was harsh, with -20 Celsius [-4 degrees F] air temperatures and sea temperatures very near the freezing level of seawater,” stated Steve McPhail, head of AUV Improvement on the NOC, in an announcement. “Underneath the ice cabinets there are important tidal currents and the excessive southerly latitudes pose difficulties for the AUV’s underwater navigation. As soon as within the ice shelf cavity we had neither detailed data on the thickness of the ice, nor the depth of the water.”
The FISS workforce would anxiously look ahead to Boaty to return after being gone for upwards of 48 hours at a time, and in largely unknown marine environments.
“I used to be very relieved every time the AUV turned up, on time, and in the best place, circling 900m [2,300 feet] beneath the ship,” stated McPhail. “Even then our issues weren’t over. With the floor of the ocean frozen, we wanted RV Polarstern’s assist to create an ice gap via which we fastidiously navigated the AUV.”
With this part of the mission full, Boaty’s knowledge will now be studied by scientists.
As you could recall, the yellow submarine obtained its identify after the Pure Atmosphere Analysis Council refused to honor a ballot during which the general public was given the chance to call the UK’s latest polar analysis ship. As a substitute, the ship was given the identify RRS Sir David Attenborough and the long-range AUV was christened Boaty McBoatface as a sort of comfort prize.