Researchers are using dolphin-sized robots in their attempts at understanding how Antarctica’s ice is melting as a result of climate change. The study is therefore also showing how technology can completely revolutionize the way in which scientists gather data in the remotest of regions, researchers said on Monday.
Efforts are led by the California Institute of Technology, which used three yellow gliders to analyze the temperature and salt concentrations in the depths of Antarctica’s Weddell Sea. These gliders are 6 feet 6 inches long and cost $240,000 each.
By using these gliders, researchers could see how massive currents drive heat towards the shallow waters surrounding Antarctica, thus contributing to the melting of coastal ice.
The results were published in the journal Nature Geoscience and support previous theories on how heat travels south. The United Nation’s panel of climate scientists have already warned that not only Antarctica but also Greenland are losing mass, which causes a rise in sea levels.
Karen Heywood, co-author of the study, explains how a revolution is taking place in data collection on the Antarctic. The England University of East Anglia researcher explains that these battery-powered robots are not only gathering massive amounts of data but also significantly reducing costs. In fact, one of the gliders used by scientists went missing and even so, costs were lower than the 2007 trip, during which scientists used a ship costing $30,000 a day to collect the needed data.
These robots can be left floating for months, and with tiny adjustments to buoyancy, they surface and dive, collecting heaps of data.
“We call them mechanical dolphins,”
Other studies are underway in different parts of the globe. Since 2000, approximately 3,600 “Argo floats” have been set adrift to monitor rising temperatures as well as sea salinity. In the meantime, NASA has sent out drones to monitor the evolution of our planet’s ice from the air.
Norway’s Kongsberg’s subsea division is one of the companies producing these mechanical dolphins. According to Katharina Nygaard, with Kongsberg, the company has been growing in the field of marine research.
In the Arctic, the same gliders are investigating the higher temperatures causing fish stocks to shift north.
“We’ve moved from prototypes to the more regular use of gliders in the last year,”
Peter Haugan, professor at the University of Bergen, Norway, said.