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In the Arctic, many of the nautic charts are built from scant sounding data, often from measurements that are hundreds of years old, because there is no additional data. As summer shipping increases in Arctic waters, a national effort is underway to improve the charts to ensure safety, but short summers, limited good weather, remote locations and the vast amount of seafloor to survey makes for a daunting task.

In an attempt to respond to this challenge, researchers have deployed for the first time an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) in order to map the Arctic seafloor in an effort to improve nautical charts in these areas.

The team from the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, together with personnel from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Coast Survey, deployed the unmanned surface vehicle called Bathymetric Explorer and Navigator (BEN).

The vessel increased the survey coverage of the ship’s efforts by as much as 25% during day operations alone, and if integrated into the ship’s routine production survey operations could be operated by existing shipboard personnel, as reported by

BEN is a robotic vessel designed to aid the ship’s crew in the colossal task of seafloor survey. It is 4 meters long, has a top speed of 5.5 knots and a 16-hour endurance.

BEN is outfitted with state-of-the-art sonar and navigation systems to meet the seafloor survey requirements for nautical charting and safety of navigation. The navigation system provides exact positioning and attitude while BEN plows the ocean’s surface, while the sonar paints a swath of measurements below and to the sides of the vessel.