Antartica bombshell: Boaty McBoatface makes shock discovery on debut research mission

The robotic submersible was given the name originally chosen for a polar research ship by irreverent contestants in a public competition. Red-faced officials decided to ignore the popular vote and instead named the vessel the RRS Sir David Attenborough in honour of the veteran broadcaster. But a protest on social media led to a compromise that ensured the Boaty McBoatface name live on in the shape of the submarine.

The data from Boaty McBoatface gave us a completely new way of looking at the deep ocean

Dr Eleanor Frajka-Williams

The autonomous vessel can collect significant amounts of previously unattainable data because of the way it can manoeuvre at great depths.

Its maiden mission saw it dive to depths of 4,000 metres in the Orkney Passage, a region of the Southern Ocean around 500 miles from the Antarctic Peninsula.

And it gathered data which linked increasing Antarctic winds with rising sea temperatures.

The data is published in the scientific journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) and showed Antarctic winds, growing stronger due to the ozone layer’s depletion and increasing greenhouse gases, are adding to turbulence deep in the ocean.

The turbulence sees warm water at mid depths mixing with cold, dense water at greater depths, with the warming water from the sea bed then becoming a contributor to rising sea levels.

The finding has not previously been factored in to predictive models considering temperature and ocean level rises.

Dr Eleanor Frajka-Williams, of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, said: “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.”

The data was collected as part of a joint project involving the University of Southampton, the National Oceanography Centre, the British Antarctic Survey, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and Princeton University.

Dr Povl Abrahamsen, of the British Antarctic Survey, said: “This study is a great example of how exciting new technology such as the unmanned submarine 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.”

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