After three missions on a seven-week maiden voyage, the celebrated yellow submarine Boaty McBoatface has returned home with what scientists are calling “unprecedented data about some of the coldest abyssal ocean waters on Earth.”
The long-range robotic submersible (or autosub) set out from Chile in March with its operators from the British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre to explore a region known as the Antarctic Bottom Water. Its mission was to record data on the temperature, speed of water flow, and underwater turbulence rates of a region in the Southern Ocean known as the Orkney Passage. Now it returned home from a job well-done.
Boaty McBoatface came to prominence last year when the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) asked the internet to pick a name for the United Kingdom’s new $300 million polar research ship. Voters overwhelming chose the name Boaty McBoatface. But the Science Ministry wasn’t having it. Instead, they went with RRS Sir David Attenborough and attempted to appease voters by giving the name to the autosub.
To some, NERC’s denial of the vote felt like a denial of democracy itself. And even though the autosub is not exactly a boat with a discernible face, its independent nature and go-getter approach to mission in hostile environments — during its voyage, Boaty made three deep dives, venturing nearly 112 miles at depths over 13,000 feet in waters that were sometimes below freezing — make the endearing name appropriate.
The region Boaty explored is deep underwater but it offers unique insight into the mechanisms of the ocean and the impacts of climate change. The Orkney Passage is an important “valve,” reports the BBC, where built-up heat energy is redistributed in the climate system. By studying these regions, scientists hope to develop models to understand and predict the development of the climate in the coming centuries.
“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,” Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said in a statement. “Future Boaty missions and the new RRS Sir David Attenborough research vessel will ensure the U.K. continues to punch above its weight and lead the way in polar science, engineering and technology as part of our industrial strategy.”
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