Robotic submersible probes depths of up to 4,000m near Antarctic Peninsula to obtain unprecedented data on how mixing ocean waters affect climate change
June 28, 2017 — A yellow submarine dubbed Boaty McBoatface has obtained “unprecedented data” from its first voyage exploring one of the deepest and coldest ocean regions on Earth, scientists have said.
The robotic submersible was given the name originally chosen for a new polar research ship by irreverent contestants in a public competition. Embarrassed officials decided to ignore the popular vote and instead named the vessel the RRS Sir David Attenborough in honour of the veteran broadcaster. A storm of protest led to a compromise that allowed the name to live on.
The submarine plunged to depths as far as 4,000m to obtain information about temperature, water flow speed and turbulence from Orkney Passage, a region of the Southern Ocean about 500 miles from the Antarctic Peninsula.
The data will help scientists to understand the complex ways that mixing ocean waters affect climate change.
Prof Alberto Naveira Garabato from the University of Southampton said: “The Orkney Passage is a key chokepoint to the flow of abyssal waters in which we expect the mechanism linking changing winds to abyssal water warming to operate.
“Our goal is to learn enough about these convoluted processes to represent them in the models that scientists use to predict how our climate will evolve over the 21st century and beyond.
“We have been able to collect massive amounts of data that we have never been able to capture before due to the way Boaty is able to move underwater. Up until now we have only been able to take measurements from a fixed point, but now we are able to obtain a much more detailed picture of what is happening in this very important underwater landscape.”
The submersible was launched from the RRS James Clark Ross as part of the seven-week expedition. A new type of autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), it can travel under ice and reach depths of 6,000m, transmitting the data it collects to researchers via a radio link.
Universities and science minister Jo Johnson said: “Fresh from its maiden voyage, Boaty is already delivering new insight into some of the coldest ocean waters on Earth, giving scientists a greater understanding of changes in the Antarctic region and shaping a global effort to tackle climate change.”
The name Boaty McBoatface was first put forward by former BBC radio presenter James Hand in response to a public poll organised by the National Environment Research Council to name their new £200m Arctic research vessel.
The research council was mobbed with more than 7,000 ideas for names in the month-long competition period, among them RRS Onion Knight, RRS I Like Big Boats and I Cannot Lie, and RRS Capt’n Birdseye Get Off My Cod.