Image via Live Science, Credit M. Ginzburg, AWI.
Its name is Bluefin, which holds several meanings from homage to the endangered bluefin tuna that represents all we're doing wrong in our fishing industry to the fact that it's going into frigid waters to explore Arctic marine life. The robot, or more appropriately, the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), is central to a unique study to collect samples of the critters living in water too cold for humans to explore in other ways. Researchers are hoping that the specialized tools and techniques used by Bluefin could be the future of Arctic marine exploration. Bluefin is 13 feet long and was deployed on July 26th from a German icebreaker ship to collect samples. While the scientists are still studying what it brought back, they can at least say that everything seemed to work as intended on the AUV.
From Live Science:
"We are one of the world's first working groups to have successfully carried out such an under-ice mission, a goal we have been working hard to achieve," said Thomas Soltwedel, the chief scientist of the expedition. "The samples and data obtained will shed a new light on phytoplankton production in the transition area between the permanently ice-covered Arctic Ocean and its ice-free marginal zone. Autonomous underwater vehicles are opening up new possibilities to investigate the ice-covered polar seas -- areas that are of pivotal importance in climate research."
We've learned recently that exploring the icy waters of the poles can reveal a great deal about how global climate change and acidification are impacting our oceans -- the poles are actually where these problems will have the fastest effects. And this includes on phytoplankton, the building blocks of the food chain for entire marine life systems. That's why such studies as can be done with Bluefin is so important in ocean research.
Bluefin can be programmed on where to go and what to do before being launched, carrying out the mission and returning independently without constant control by scientists. It measures marine life and water conditions, even down to radiation levels at the surface of the ocean and the distribution of algae throughout its path.
Other AUVs we've seen for marine research have included those used to scan for submerged oil in the gulf and even robotic fish to monitor pollution along coastlines or detect impacts of climate change.
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