Boaty McBoatface, the famous submarine, is about to set off on an Antarctic expedition that will study the underwater currents, which have an important role in regulating the planet’s climate. The project, called Dynamics of the Orkney Passage Outflow expedition (DynOPO), will be led by scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the Southampton University.
The team will map the undersea currents and flow of the Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) within 11,500 foot (3,500 meters) deep Orkney Passage, and researchers hope that by doing so, they’ll be able to determine how these significant currents are being affected by climate change, as well as creating models to predict climate change throughout the 21st century.
Joining their expedition will be autonomous long range submarine Boaty McBoatface, the first of three submarines that are being developed by the National Oceanography Center (NOC). The submarine has gotten a lot of attention due to its corky an unusual name, which was chosen by internet users in a survey conducted by the Natural Environment Research Council to choose the name for a Royal Research Ship.
Other name options included RRS Journeyman, RRS Pride of Britain, RRS Cold Trousers and RRS It’s Bloody Cold Here, although RRS Boaty McBoatface was always the contests’ favorite, winning with over 20,000 votes. However, the British Government deemed the name unsuitable for a Royal Research Ship and named it RRS Sir David Attenborough instead. When internet users show their disapproval and disappointment over the name selection, a submarine was named Boaty McBoatface as a consolation.
The DynOPO Expedition
The expedition will set off on March 17 from Punta Arenas in Chile, traveling aboard RRS James Clark Ross. They will head to an area of the Antarctic Peninsula, and in that area, they’ll deploy the instruments necessary to measure ocean turbulence at great depths.
Boaty McBoatface will be traveling back and forth along an abyssal current of the AABW through the Orkney Passage, to measure the intensity of the flow. The flow in the Orkney Passage current acts as an undersea conveyor belt, which brings cold water to the equatorial regions of Earth, and contributes to the global circulation. They want to focus in the Orkney Passage because there, the flow goes through a “chokepoint” as it heads from Antarctica’s Weddell Sea to the Antarctic Ocean.
In recent years, scientists have suspected that the changing winds over the Southern Ocean are affecting the speed of seafloor currents carrying AABW, thus affecting the amount of turbulence flow in the Orkney Passage. The expedition’s lead scientist, Alberto Naveira Garabato from the University of Southampton, released the team’s concern in a statement.
“We know that a major driver of the abyssal ocean warming, at least in the Atlantic Ocean, is changes in winds over the Southern Ocean. The abyssal waters of the World Ocean sink in the Southern Ocean, and flow northward along the seafloor in submarine streams. When these streams encounter submarine topography or key chokepoints, they navigate it by squeezing through valleys and around mountains, occasionally forming submarine waterfalls- much as a river flowing toward the sea does on the Earth’s surface,” Naveira Garabato pointed.
Climate change concerns
Scientists suspect that more heat is getting mixed into the Antarctic Bottom Water from shallower, warmer ocean layers. This warmer water is getting delivered to the equatorial regions through the Orkney Passage currents, and it could be affecting the planet’s climate.
The Orkney Passage is likely a key chokepoint in this process, and researchers are hoping to learn more about the speed of its streams, the degree of turbulence down below as well as understanding how deep sea waters are responding to the changes in the winds above the Southern Ocean. Finally, scientists would like to create models to help them predict how our climate will change during the 21st century and beyond.
“One of the most surprising features of the climate change that we are currently experiencing is that the abyssal waters of the world ocean have been warming steadily over the last few decades,” said Garabato. “Establishing the causes of this warming is important because the warming plays an important role in moderating the ongoing –and likely future- increases in atmospheric temperature and sea level around the globe”.
Boaty McBoatface generated a lot of attention for the expedition due to its funny name, and scientists hope that the autonomous submarine helps to raise awareness of climate change and the deep sea currents warming situation. RRS Sir David Attenborough is still under construction, but Boaty McBoatface will eventually join the crew of the Royal Research Ship when it launches in 2019.