Saturday, October 23, 2010

Underwater robot studying ice-covered Antarctic Ocean

CTV News (Canada): An underwater robot owned by the University of British Columbia is probing the ice-covered waters off Antarctica as part of a project designed to give scientists a rare glimpse into the forbidding depths at the South Pole. Until now, scientists have had a hard time figuring out exactly what's going on in the deep, frigid waters beneath the ice shelves that cling to 44 per cent of the Antarctic coastline.

Traditional depth profiling instruments are dropped through a limited number of drill holes, providing a limited vertical profile of water temperature, salinity and other variables. In contrast, a robot that can dive, collect data and return to its starting point autonomously has the potential to advance scientists' perspective from knowing what's going on in a narrow column of water to having a dynamic 3-D perspective of the largely uncharted ice-covered waters.

Ultimately, researchers hope data they collect from beneath the ice will be used to better understand the global climate. "The bigger goal is to actually help the climate modelers get a better idea of how these ice-ocean interfaces are reacting to changes in the ocean," UBC doctoral candidate Andrew Hamilton told CTV News in an interview from Christchurch, New Zealand.

"We have a fairly good understanding of how ice masses react to atmospheric changes, but we really don't have a good understanding of what's happening underneath these masses at the water interface."…

The Kapitan Dranitsyn breaking ice in Antarctica, shot by Turk17, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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