Robots under Ice: In October Last Year, Scientist Martin Doble Joined a Research Expedition to Antarctica to Gather Data beneath the Sea Ice Using State-of-the-Art Underwater Probes. but the Supercooled Seas, Temperamental Technology and Inquisitive Wildlife Made for an Eventful Month on the Ice

By Doble, Martin | Geographical, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Robots under Ice: In October Last Year, Scientist Martin Doble Joined a Research Expedition to Antarctica to Gather Data beneath the Sea Ice Using State-of-the-Art Underwater Probes. but the Supercooled Seas, Temperamental Technology and Inquisitive Wildlife Made for an Eventful Month on the Ice


Doble, Martin, Geographical


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

'Seal in the hole!' This wasn't the best time for a curious mammal to put in an appearance. Our robot submarine was due back in the ice hole any second now, and we had no idea how this big male Weddell seal was going to react.

Anxious moments followed, but fortunately, our visitor was interested without being aggressive or panicked, and the hole proved to be big enough for both machine and beast.

We soon became used to sharing our space with these placid animals while launching, running and recovering missions; not to the point of being blase about it, you understand--tapping away on a laptop in a tent while a half-tonne seal bobs and snorts in the freezing water at your feet never becomes 'routine'--but comfortable and relaxed nonetheless.

IN EREBUS'S SHADOW

I had come to Antarctica's Ross Island as part of an international team investigating how the ocean current flowing under a floating ice barrier leaves eddies and turbulence in its wake. Small-scale mixing such as this controls heat exchange between the water and the ice, and forms a piece of the puzzle in our understanding of how Antarctica's giant floating ice shelves will respond to warming seas.

The setting couldn't be more spectacular. The 3,794-metre active volcano Mount Erebus dominates the view, rising in gentle curves to its summit crater. A lava lake inside the crater sends a constant plume of steam into the sky, although no violent eruptions have taken place for thousands of years.

Vast glaciers creeping down the mountain's slopes drive the improbably narrow finger of the Erebus Glacier Tongue 15 kilometres out to sea. This floating glacier is around 300 metres thick where it leaves the shore, tapering to just 50 metres at its tip.

Early visitors to the region knew the glacier tongue well: both Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton built huts nearby, travelling past it as they set off for the South Pole. That 'Heroic Age' is long gone, but the scientific ethos of those early explorers still has a major focus nearby: although seemingly infinitely remote, our camp was only about 20 kilometres from the USA's McMurdo Station, Antarctica's largest base. Its smaller companion, New Zealand's Scott Base, was our 'home town', from where we staged the experiment and to which we snuck back for the occasional shower.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The sea itself is frozen over for most of the year with more than two metres of ice, which glues the ice tongue in place and protects it from waves and currents raised by the often hurricane-force winds that howl down from the heart of the continent. The sea ice also allows easy travel around the region and provides a stable surface on which to set up camp.

If you want to study the ocean, however, it makes gaining access to the water difficult and time-consuming. In order to overcome this difficulty, we needed a device that could be launched from a small hole, travel around under the ice taking measurements, and then return to the same hole. Fortunately, just such a device exists: a 'robot submarine' known as an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). The AUV is programmed with a mission and, once under way, operates without instruction from the surface: a 'launch and forget' science probe (or, 'launch and worry about' in reality, as they are rather expensive).

TECH TROUBLE

It has only recently become feasible to use AUVs in marine science, as their endurance and reliability have slowly increased. Using autonomous vehicles under ice presents several new problems, however, since the standard 'panic solution' during open-ocean missions is for the vehicle to surface, get a GPS fix and send off a text message with its position--none of which are possible under ice.

Instead, it's best simply not to have a problem in this environment. Although the vehicle can be located acoustically, going and drilling it out is, at best, time-consuming and, at worst, impossible.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Robots under Ice: In October Last Year, Scientist Martin Doble Joined a Research Expedition to Antarctica to Gather Data beneath the Sea Ice Using State-of-the-Art Underwater Probes. but the Supercooled Seas, Temperamental Technology and Inquisitive Wildlife Made for an Eventful Month on the Ice
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.