A new yellow robot submarine, based at Southampton’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC), has been named Boaty McBoatface by Jo Johnson – Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation.
The naming took place alongside the keel-laying ceremony of the UK’s new state-of-the-art polar research ship, RRS Sir David Attenborough, at Cammell Laird’s shipyard in Birkenhead. Boaty McBoatface and RRS Sir David Attenborough’s missions are set to be the focal point of a new £1M Government-funded ‘Polar Explorer Programme’, that aims to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and citizens by engaging young people with the RRS Sir David Attenborough and polar science.
The name Boaty McBoatface has been given to a state-of-the-art robot submarine, Autosub Long Range. The hugely popular name was proposed as part of the ‘Name our Ship’ campaign, in which members of the public were able to make suggestions. Boaty McBoatface has been developed at the NOC and is able to travel thousands of kilometres on missions lasting several months at a time. The ability to travel under ice and reach depths of 6000 metres will enable Boaty to explore 95% of the ocean. Boaty and similar autonomous vehicles will help oceanographers investigate the processes driving change in the Polar Regions, including the extent of the ice melt, and conduct a range of research in the Arctic and Antarctic oceans without the need for the constant presence of a research ship. Scientists won’t need to wait to get access to the data, since Boaty will periodically surface and transmit the data back via a radio link.
Boaty and the other Autosub vehicles based at NOC are part of the UK National Marine Equipment Pool, and can be deployed from the RRS Sir David Attenborough to increase the quantity and quality of scientific data collected during offshore expeditions. This equipment pool is the largest of its kind in Europe, including ten thousand items with a collective value estimated at £20 Million.
Professor Russell Wynn, Chief Scientist of Marine Autonomous and Robotic Systems at the NOC, said “NOC has a long history of innovation in marine robotics, and Boaty McBoatface is the latest addition to the Autosub family of robotic underwater vehicles developed here in Southampton. The Autosubs have a proven track record of pioneering science missions, including under ice and to the deepest parts of the ocean.
“The marine robot fleet at NOC is one of the most capable in the world, and by working with government and industry partners we are able to translate this capability into more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly marine observing, while also supporting regional and national growth in this rapidly growing sector.”
In March next year Boaty McBoatface will be ‘flying’ through a deep current in the Southern Ocean that originates in Antarctica, as part of the DynOPO project. Boaty will collect data on the speed of the Antarctic Bottom Water flow, as well as the level of turbulence within the submarine waterfalls and rapids it travels through. These data will be sent onto scientists via radio-link in order to help them understand the influence these features have on mixing between different layers of the Southern Ocean, which will shed light on how the ocean is responding to global warming. Antarctic Bottom Water fills in the abyss of most of the world ocean’s basins, so understanding how it traps and releases heat is vital to determine how global climate will change.
Professor Alberto Naveira-Garabato, from the University of Southampton, who is leading the DynOPO project, said “Autosub Long Range is much better equipped for this task than ship-based instrumentation, because it can follow the pathway of Antarctic Bottom Water away from Antarctica while it directly measures how quickly the water flows and how rapidly it mixes.” Later on in 2017 Boaty McBoatface will be fitted with acoustic and chemical sensors and sent into the North Sea to ‘sniff-out’ signals associated with the artificial release of gas beneath the seabed. Led by the NOC, this will form part of the world’s first ‘real world’ deep-water controlled experiment to simulate any release that may be a result of leakage from a carbon capture and storage reservoir; the STEMM-CCS project will aim to further verify the safety of offshore carbon dioxide capture and storage, which will help mitigate global climate change.
A future aim for Boaty McBoatface will be to attempt the first-ever crossing of the Arctic Ocean under ice, which will provide a major technical challenge but has the potential to deliver a step-change in scientists’ ability to observe change in this vital region.
Commissioned by NERC (Natural Environment Research Council), operated by British Antarctic Survey (BAS), and built by Cammell Laird, the RRS Sir David Attenborough will transform UK polar research capability.
Professor Ed Hill, the Executive Director of the NOC, added “We are really happy to be the home of Boaty McBoatface, which we hope will be a great vehicle for communicating to a new audience the impact of our science, as well as the innovation that allows it to happen.”
The ‘Polar Explorer Programme’ that Boaty McBoatface is part of will provide a package of online resources, such as videos and images for teachers at low attaining primary and secondary schools. The suite of resources will help increase engagement, achievement and literacy in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects amongst students. The material will also be available for the public.
The educational support will be available for teachers from March 2017 at 100 schools, and will be gradually rolled out to a further 400 schools by January 2019, running over the next four years.