Jun 30, 2017 10:14 AM EDT
The Autosub Long Range, (ALR) affectionately known as Boaty McBoatface, is exploring some of the coldest, most treacherous waters on Earth.
A new animated video tracks its progress as it travels 2.5 miles under the sea surface and 500 miles from the Antarctic Peninsula.
The Antarctic Bottom Waters are truly abyssal, and it was up to Boaty, as part of a study called DynOPO (Dynamics of the Orkney Passage Outflow), to collect data on temperature, water flow rates, and turbulence in the hostile waters of the outflow currents of the Orkney Passage. The waters can often reach temperatures below freezing because the pressures are so high in the abyss.
Launched from RRS James Clark Ross, scientists used Boaty, a robotic submersible, to move through waters much too hostile to explore with human-piloted craft. This was the maiden Antarctic voyage of the yellow probe and it was a complete success.
A research drone of Boaty's capacities was needed. Cold dense water from the Antarctic moves north and into the Orkney Passage. The current narrows to become a "chokepoint" where the current speeds up on its way north. Constricted in its flow, it forms a powerful undersea current with a speed of about 1.1 mph.
Boaty was sent from the surface vessel on three missions, one lasting three full days. The autosub's data will be used to create more accurate models of global warming and cooling patterns. Undersea deep currents play a massive role in global heat transfer. The upwelling and downwelling of warm and cold water is the basis for much of the ocean's food chains and food webs.
The underwater data will be correlated to wind data taken from surface instruments. Correlations will allow researchers to determine the interplay between wind and currents.
The amount of data collected is so huge that it will take a long time to process. After the successful Orkney Outflow work, the RSS James Clark Ross returned to Southampton. Soon Boaty and his drone companions will be placed upon RRS David Attenborough for further research in Arctic and Antarctic waters.
An attempt to name the research vessel led to thousands of thumbs-up for the moniker Boaty McBoatface, but the staid British scientists just couldn't bring themselves to give a huge vessel such a name. But the humor was not lost on the researchers, because they made the decision to transfer Boaty's name to the ALRs, allowing the magnificent scientific vessel to be named after Attenborough, the great British naturalist.
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