The debut mission of the autonomous Autosub Long Range submersible – known affectionately as Boaty McBoatface – has for the first time shed light on a key process linking increasing Antarctic winds to rising sea temperatures, according to a new report by the British Antarctic Survey.
Data collected from an expedition in 2017 – and just published in the scientific journal PNAS – is expected to help climate scientists build more accurate predictions of the effects of climate change on rising sea levels.
During the three-day mission Boaty McBoatface travelled 180km through mountainous underwater valleys measuring the temperature, saltiness and turbulence of the water at the bottom of the ocean.
Using an echo sounder to navigate, it successfully completed the perilous route – reaching depths of up to 4,000m.
It was then re-united with the rest of the project team at the programmed rendezvous location, where the sub was recovered and its collected data downloaded.
“This study is a great example of how exciting new technology such as Boaty McBoatface can be used along with ship-based measurements and cutting-edge ocean models to discover and explain previously unknown processes affecting heat transport within the ocean,” says Dr. Povl Abrahamsen, an oceanographer with the British Antarctic Survey.
In recent decades, winds blowing over the Southern Ocean have been getting stronger due to the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica and increases in greenhouse gases.
The data collected by Boaty McBoatface – along with other ocean measurements collected from the BAS research vessel RRS James Clark Ross – have revealed a mechanism that enables these winds to increase turbulence deep in the Southern Ocean, causing warm water at mid depths to mix with cold, dense water in the abyss.
The resulting warming of the water on the seabed is a significant contributor to rising sea levels.