SeaBED, a submersible robot powered by Linux, was recently used to scan the huge frozen ice sheets across Antarctica. That has helped scientists get detailed and high-resolution 3-D maps of the frozen continent for the first time. Researchers at the British Antarctic Survey will now be able to know more regions which had earlier been difficult to access because of the hostile conditions prevailing in the area.
Scientists usually measure the thickness of sea ice using many methods, the most notable among them being satellite observations from space, drilling the snow and personal observations from ships. All these methods have their own limitations.
Detailed images and 3-D maps produced by SeaBED have now proved that, “The Antarctic sea ice may be thicker than previously thought.”
The SeaBed spent the last four years surveying nearly 500,000 square metres of frozen ice tracts of Weddell, Bellingshausen and Wilkes Land sections of Antarctica.
“Our surveys indicate that the floes are much thicker and more deformed than reported by most drilling and ship-based measurements of Antarctic sea ice,” the team reported in the journal Nature Geoscience on Monday.
“Mean drafts range from 1.4 to 5.5 metres, with maxima up to 16 metres.
“We suggest that thick ice in the near-coastal and interior pack may be under-represented in existing in site assessments of Antarctic sea ice and hence, on average, Antarctic sea ice may be thicker than previously thought.”
The robot runs on a 1.2GHz Intel Pentium processor and uses Ubuntu, while the hull of the sub has been so designed that it stays stable enough for photographic work, to allow the sonar to aim precisely and to be able to send the data thus collected consistently.
“Putting an AUV together to map the underside of sea ice is challenging from a software, navigation and acoustic communications standpoint,” said Hanumant Singh, an engineer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) who built the AUV.
“SeaBED’s maneuverability and stability made it ideal for this application where we were doing detailed floe-scale mapping and deploying, as well as recovering in close-packed ice conditions. It would have been tough to do many of the missions we did, especially under the conditions we encountered, with some of the larger vehicles.”
Though scientists do know a lot about the sea under the Arctic after years of painstaking effort through submarine research, SeBED has helped made significant headway towards knowing the frozen planet better.