JUN 19, 2019 07:29 AM PDT

Boaty McBoatface's First Mission Helps Climate Scientists

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

Do you remember Boaty McBoatface? Back in 2016, in what quickly became a valuable lesson in allowing the public to name research vessels, the British public voted to name a new state-of-the-art ship “RRS Boaty McBoatface.” Although the name was rejected for the primary research vessel—dubbed RRS Sir David Attenborough instead—it was given to an autonomous submarine vehicle. 

The results of the submarine’s first mission, which took place in April 2017, were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This mission was part of a collaborative project involving the University of Southampton, the National Oceanography Centre, the British Antarctic Survey, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and Princeton University.

Boaty McBoatface—technically named Autosub Long Range—was used to investigate changing temperatures at the bottom of the Southern Ocean. Boaty used an echo sounder to navigate 180 kilometers (112 miles), reaching depths of 4000 meters (2.5 miles) during a three-day mission. During this journey, it measured the water’s temperature, salinity, and turbidity throughout the mountainous ocean floor. The research team created a fly-through animation of Boaty’s mission featured in the video below:

In a press release from the University of Southampton, Dr. Eleanor Frajka-Williams from the National Oceanography Centre stated: “The data from Boaty McBoatface gave us a completely new way of looking at the deep ocean—the path taken by Boaty created a spatial view of the turbulence near the seafloor.” 

From the data gathered by the submarine, the team determined that strong winds over the Southern Ocean—which have increased in strength due to climate change—are increasing turbulence causing warm mid-depth waters to mix with cold, dense abyssal water. This mixing results in warmer, shallow waters which are a contributor to sea level rise. 

Boaty’s first successful mission benefits researchers that are trying to predict climate change’s impact on sea level rise. Lead researcher Professor Alberto Naveira Garabato, also from University of Southampton, told university reporters that this “study is an important step in understanding how the climate change happening in remote and inhospitable Antarctic waters will impact the warming of the oceans as a whole and future sea level rise.”

Sources: Header Image via Povl Abrahamsen (BAS), University of Southampton, PNAS

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
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