AUVs have the ability to explore under ice regions and collect critical datasets where no other means exists, making them extremely valuable tools for polar climate science. SOOS is establishing a new task team to focus on Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) in Antarctica, coincident with the new era of international polar AUV exploration that builds upon leadership of the UK’s Autosub program since 2001.
nupiri muka and it’s team at the Antarctic Gateway Partnership, Australia (Photo: Guy Williams)
An international expert panel met in Vancouver, Canada in June 2018 to guide the new polar AUV programs from Australia and Sweden. This resulted in the first set of recommendation on the formalisation of best practises with respect to standard operating procedures and balancing technical capability with scientific goals (King et al., 2018).
In early 2019 Australia and Sweden went under ice shelves for the first time. While these were relatively short missions, they represented bold and important first steps towards future scientific missions that will fully utilise the capability of AUVs to address the large data gaps in our understanding of the geometry of key Antarctic ice shelves and the ocean/ice interactions therein. Read more about the Australian AUV under ice shelf campaign here and the rare observation of an ice shelf calving during the campaign here.
nupiri muka at the Sørsdal Glacier, East Antarctic during the early 2019 (Photo: Isak Bowden-Floyd)
In June there was a 2nd International Experts Panel meeting in Norway where members of the Swedish and Australian AUV teams shared experiences of the past season and plans for future deployments. Operation of AUVs beneath ice is an inherently high risk activity, and the support and sharing of experience between members of the AUV community is key to the future success of these operations. Both countries have new plans to return to the Thwaites Glacier region of Antarctica in coming years.
The new SOOS Task Team will build upon these first two workshops, broadening its membership to all SOOS groups actively engaged/interested in AUVs around Antarctica. Key objectives of this task team include (1) bringing together the interested ‘players’ in the field of AUVs in Antarctica to matching/sharing AUVs and teams with compatible icebreakers and research expeditions for potential upcoming/proposed campaigns (2) establishing ‘best practises’ documentation and recommendations for AUVs in the Southern Ocean and (3) working towards standard data formats for both science and engineering outputs.