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Boaty McBoatface completes its first chilly voyage

29 June 2017

Boaty McBoatface, the yellow robotic submersible, arrives back in the UK after collecting data from the coldest ocean waters on Earth.

Autosub Long Range “Boaty McBoatface” being lowered into the water. (Credit: BAS)

Researchers at the University of Southampton have captured data about some of the coldest abyssal ocean waters on Earth – known as Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) – during first voyage of the yellow robotic submersible known as Boaty McBoatface, which arrived back in the UK last week.

The team, which also involved scientists from British Antarctic Survey and engineers from the National Oceanography Centre, captured data on temperature, speed of water flow and underwater turbulence rates of the Orkney Passage, a region of the Southern Ocean which is around 4,000m deep and roughly 500 miles from the Antarctic Peninsula.

It was the first Antarctic voyage of Boaty McBoatface, one of the Autosub Long Range (ALR) class of unmanned submersibles, the latest type of autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) developed by the National Oceanography Centre. The Autosub was named following last year’s campaign by the NERC to name the UK’s new polar research ship. 

Welcoming Boaty McBoatface back from its first mission, 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.

“Future Boaty missions and the new RRS Sir David Attenborough research vessel will ensure the UK continues to punch above its weight and lead the way in polar science, engineering and technology as part of our Industrial Strategy.”

Boaty being deployed. (Credit: Povl Abrahamsen, BAS)

Professor Alberto Naveira Garabato from the University of Southampton, the lead scientist of DynOPO, said: “We have been able to collect massive amounts of data that we have never been able to capture before due to the way Boaty (Autosub Long Range) 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 challenge for us now, is to analyse it all.”

But the expedition was not without its challenges. Povl Abrahamsen, Physical Oceanographer at the British Antarctic Survey, explained: “At the start of one mission, whilst diving, Boaty encountered a swarm of krill so dense that the sub’s echo sounders thought it was approaching the seabed although it was only at 80m depth, and returned to the surface.

However, the upside was that we did see lots of whales near the ship! In spite of the occasional hiccup, and in increasingly cold and dark conditions, Boaty has gathered a unique and exciting dataset that we look forward to studying in more detail in months and years to come.”

Steve McPhail, Head of the AUV Development at the National Oceanography Centre, added: “Although these recent deployments tested the technological capabilities of Autosub Long Range, we are extremely pleased with the results and the data that we have been able to provide to the scientific community. In the near future, we are looking forward to expanding and developing the fleet on the success of this last mission.” 

Material courtesy of University of Southampton

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