Boaty McBoatface prepares for first Antarctic mission

The unusually-named submersible will join with scientists from the University of Southampton and British Antarctic Survey on its maiden voyage to the Antarctic bottom.
By Amy Wallace  |  March 13, 2017 at 12:49 PM
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March 13 (UPI) -- Boaty McBoatface, which received its unusual moniker in an online poll last year, is about to embark on its maiden voyage to conduct scientific research.

The British National Environment Research Council in March 2016 invited voters in an online poll to name the $290 million scientific polar research ship last year. The RRS Boaty McBoatface was the top choice with 27,000 votes, 3,000 more votes than the second-place RRS Henry Worsley, named after a British explorer.

Since then, the Council decided to name the polar research ship after famed naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, but keep the Boaty McBoatface moniker for an unmanned submersible.

The submersible, which is actually three Autosub Long Range class of unmanned submersibles sharing the name, will be joining ocean scientists from the University of Southampton and the British Antarctic Survey, or BAS, on the mission to study some of the deepest and coldest depths of ocean water on Earth, known as the Antarctic Bottom Water, or AABW. The submersibles are the latest type of autonomous underwater vehicle, or AUV.

The team will work with engineers from the National Oceanography Center, or NOC, to assess water flow and underwater turbulence in the Orkney Passage, an area in the Southern Ocean that is 3,500 miles deep and 500 miles from the Antarctic Peninsula.

The submersibles will travel back and forth through an abyssal current of AABW along the Orkney Passage measuring the intensity of the turbulence. Evidence shows changing winds over the Southern Ocean affects the speed of seafloor currents carrying AABW. The speed of the currents determine turbulence of water flowing around underwater mountain ranges.

"We know that a major driver of the abyssal ocean warming, at least in the Atlantic Ocean, is changes in winds over the Southern Ocean," Professor Alberto Naveira Garabato, of the University of Southampton, said in a press release. "The abyssal waters of the World Ocean sink in the Southern Ocean, and flow northward along the seafloor in submarine streams. When these streams encounter submarine topography or key chokepoints, they navigate it by squeezing through valleys and around mountains, occasionally forming submarine waterfalls -- much as a river flowing toward the sea does on Earth's surface."

Garabato said the Orkney Passage is one of those key chokepoints and the goal of the study is to see how the flow of abyssal waters and changing winds are impacted by climate change.

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