Researchers from Northern Illinois University and DOER Marine have recently unveiled a multi-million-dollar unmanned Antarctic submarine, which will take its maiden voyage late March in Lake Tahoe.
The 2,200-pound robotic submarine is outfitted with five cameras, a water sampler, Doppler current meter, and more than two dozen sensors. Additionally, it has the ability to take core samples and has devices for imaging and mapping the seafloor as well as profiling sub-seafloor sediment.
The unmanned device will eventually be used to allow scientists to observe melting and other parameters at the interface between seawater, the base of the Ross Ice Shelf, and the sediment below. To accomplish this, the cigar-shaped submarine will be lowered through more than a half mile of borehole in the ice shelf and will be connected to the surface via two miles of cable. Once the sub reaches the deployment area, it will elegantly transform into “flight mode” and begin its sampling tasks. Data to be collected is essential for glacial and climate researchers, who currently rely on theory to examine global rise in sea levels.
Before such an expensive operation can begin, however, the sub must undergo necessary testing. Lake Tahoe was chosen as a testing site due to its size, as one of the largest lakes in the nation, and its relatively calm waters, which are similar to those found around the Antarctic Circle.
While the researchers test the functionality of the sub’s equipment, they will also be conducting local research. Lake Tahoe is known for its invasive Asian clam population, and the team hopes to examine if the species has made its way from the shores to deeper areas of the lake.
Historic seismic activity at the lake is also of concern, and there are plans to explore the lake’s seismic fault zones. With new data, the California Seismic Safety Commission hopes to gain insight into the frequency and potential future of seismic activity. This information will allow area officials to guide development of the basin in response to potential earthquake risks.
The Lake Tahoe tests will be broadcast on a live Web stream, but exact dates and locations of the tests have not yet been determined.
Antarctic submarine to explore Lake Tahoe in March [Tahoe Daily Tribune] Scientists unveil robotic submarine to explore beneath Antarctic ice shelf [PhysOrg.com]
Image Credit: DOER Marine