Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

UK robot sub searches for signs of melting 60 km into an Antarctic ice shelf cavity

19.03.2009
Autosub, a robot submarine built and developed by the UK's National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, has successfully completed a high-risk campaign of six missions travelling under an Antarctic glacier.

Autosub has been exploring Pine Island Glacier, a floating extension of the West Antarctic ice sheet, using sonar scanners to map the seabed and the underside of the ice as it juts into the sea.

Scientists hope to learn why the glacier has been thinning and accelerating over recent decades. Pine Island Glacier is in the Amundsen Sea, part of the South Pacific bordering West Antarctica. Changes in its flow have been observed since the early 1970s, and together with neighbouring glaciers it is currently contributing about 0.25 mm a year to global sea level rise.

Steve McPhail led the Autosub team during the ten-day survey. He said:

"Autosub is a completely autonomous robot: there are no connecting wires with the ship and no pilot. Autosub has to avoid collisions with the jagged ice overhead and the unknown seabed below, and return to a pre–defined rendezvous point, where we crane it back onboard the ship.

"Adding to the problems are the sub zero water temperatures and the crushing pressures at 1000 m depth. All systems on the vehicle must work perfectly while under the ice or it would be lost. There is no hope of rescue 60 km in, with 500 metres of ice overhead."

An international team of scientists led by Dr Adrian Jenkins of British Antarctic Survey and Stan Jacobs of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, New York on the American ship, the RVIB Nathaniel B Palmer, has been using the robot sub to investigate the underside of the ice and measure changes in salinity and temperature of the surrounding water.

After a test mission in unusually ice-free seas in front of the face of the glacier, they started with three 60km forays under the floating glacier and extended the length of missions to 110km round-trip. In all, a distance over 500km beneath the ice was studied.

Using its sonar, the Autosub picks its way through the water, while creating a three-dimensional map that the scientists will use to determine where and how the warmth of the ocean waters drives melting of the glacier base.

"There is still much work to be done on the processing of the data", said Adrian Jenkins, "but the picture we should get of the ocean beneath the glacier will be unprecedented in its extent and detail. It should help us answer critical questions about the role played by the ocean in driving the ongoing thinning of the glacier."

The lead US researcher on the project, Stan Jacobs, is studying the Pine Island Glacier with International Polar Year (IPY) funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). One of the IPY research goals is to better understand the dynamics of the world's massive ice sheets, including the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet. If this were to melt completely global sea levels would rise significantly. The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted that because so little is understood about ice-sheet behaviour it is difficult to predict how ice sheets will contribute to sea level rise in a warming world. The behaviour of ice sheets the IPCC report said is one of the major uncertainties in predicting exactly how the warming of the global will affect human populations.

Complementing the Autosub exploration, other work during the 53-day NB Palmer cruise included setting out 15 moored instrument arrays to record the variability in ocean properties and circulation over the next two years, extensive profiling of 'warm' and melt-laden seawater, sampling the perennial sea ice and swath-mapping deep, glacially-scoured troughs on the sea floor.

Autosub is an AUV – Automated Underwater Vehicle, designed, developed and built at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton with funding from the Natural Environment Research Council. Autosub has a maximum range of 400km and is powered by 5,000 ordinary D-cell batteries. The batteries are packed in bundles in pressure-tested housings. Either end of the seven-metre sub there are free-flooding areas where the payload of instruments are installed. It carries a multibeam sonar system that builds up a 3D map of the ice above and the seabed below.. It also carries precision instruments for measuring the salinity, temperature, and oxygen concentrations in the sea water within the ice cavity, which are vital to understanding the flow of water within the ice cavity and the rate of melting. Autosub is 7m long and weighs 3.5 tonnes. Travelling at 6km hour it is capable of diving up to 1600 m deep, and can operate for 72 hours (400 km) between battery changes.

Kim Marshall-Brown | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.soton.ac.uk

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Stagnation in the South Pacific Explains Natural CO2 Fluctuations
23.02.2018 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg

nachricht First evidence of surprising ocean warming around Galápagos corals
22.02.2018 | University of Arizona

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Attoseconds break into atomic interior

A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.

In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...

Im Focus: Good vibrations feel the force

A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.

By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Basque researchers turn light upside down

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Finnish research group discovers a new immune system regulator

23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Attoseconds break into atomic interior

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>