Feeds

Brit D-cell torpedo in icepack-bottom probe

Icebreaker crew landed with 4 tonnes of dead batteries

Build a business case: developing custom apps

A British robot submarine has penetrated under the Western Antarctic ice shelves to a distance of 60km, plunging to depths greater than 1000m. The "Autosub", built by boffins in Southampton, was powered by tens of thousands of ordinary D-cell batteries during its forays beneath the ice.

Autosub comes from the UK's National Oceanography Centre (NOC), and has been operating from the US icebreaker Nathaniel B Palmer off the floating Pine Island Glacier in the Amundsen sea. Here's a NOC vid of the yellow, torpedo-esque machine being recovered aboard ship:

"Autosub is a completely autonomous robot: there are no connecting wires with the ship and no pilot," says the NOC's Steve McPhail. "It has to avoid collisions with the jagged ice overhead and the unknown seabed below, and return to a pre–defined rendezvous point, where we crane it back onboard the ship.

"Adding to the problems are the sub zero water temperatures and the crushing pressures at 1000m depth. All systems on the vehicle must work perfectly while under the ice or it would be lost. There is no hope of rescue 60km in, with 500 metres of ice overhead."

The NOC describes Autosub's just-completed series of six cruises under the Pine Island shelf as "high risk" - understandably so. However, the yellow submarine carried out each mission without bother, bringing back large amounts of data for further analysis.

Boffins are particularly keen to figure out what's going on with the Western Antarctic ice shelves, as they have relatively little idea what sort of behaviour is normal. The Pine Island glacier has been getting thinner and moving into the sea faster since the 1970s, and the whole western shelf is currently putting enough loose ice into the ocean to raise sea levels by a quarter-millimetre annually.

"The picture we should get of the ocean beneath the glacier will be unprecedented in its extent and detail," says Adrian Jenkins of the British Antarctic Survey. "It should help us answer critical questions about the role played by the ocean in driving the ongoing thinning of the glacier."

Not least among the costs of the research will have been a substantial bill for batteries. The Autosub uses 5,000 alkaline D-cells on each trip, so the six-dive series will have seen 30,000 batteries used - some four tonnes of them. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
Boffins build CYBORG-MOTHRA but not for evil: For search & rescue
This tiny bio-bot will chew through your clothes then save your life
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.