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A  National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research team has successfully tested an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that can produce high-resolution, three-dimensional maps of Antarctic sea ice. SeaBED, as the vehicle is known, measured and mapped the underside of sea-ice floes in three areas off the Antarctic Peninsula that were previously inaccessible.

The results of the research were published this week in the Journal of Nature Geoscience. Scientists at the Institute of Antarctic and Marine Science (Australia), Antarctic Climate and Ecosystem Cooperative Research Centre (Australia), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (USA) and British Antarctic Survey (U.K.) jointly carried out the project.

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According to Unmanned Systems Technology, while most oceanographic survey instruments look down at the seafloor, SeaBED’s upward-looking sonar allowed it to map under the ice, said Woods Hole engineering scientist Hanumant Singh, whose lab designed, built and operated the AUV.

The AUV operated at a depth of 20 to 30 meters (65 to 98 feet) and was driven in a “lawnmower pattern.” These lines of data were merged to form high-resolution 3-D bathymetric surveys of the underside of the ice. The yellow SeaBED robot, which is approximately two meters (six feet) long and weighs nearly 200 kilograms (440 pounds), has a twin-hull design that gives the robot enhanced stability for low-speed photographic surveys.