According to BBC News, a new UK autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), Autosub6000, will soon start to explore the world's deepest undersea volcanoes located in the Caribbean. Autosub6000 has a range of up to 1,000 kilometers and has a maximum operating depth of 6,000 meters. It is 5.5 meters long, has a diameter of 0.9 meter, and is equipped with a high-performance GPS unit. For these two expeditions, each close to a month long, Autosub6000 will be joined by the Isis remotely operated vehicle (ROV) which is able to operate at a depth of 6,000 meters and grab animal specimens. Researchers from the National Oceanography Center in Southampton (NOCS) will lead these missions. And they expect that 'one in every two animals they come across will be a species new to science' once the robots reach a depth of 3,000 meters. Fascinating, but read more...
The first trials of Autosub6000 took place successfully in October 2007. You can see above a photo of Autosub6000 when it was "lifted into its recovery cradle following its first deep mission. The AUV reached 4556 m depth." (Credit: NOCS) This picture was extracted from Autosub6000 Discovery Trials (PDF format, 2 pages, 231 KB).
The coming mission to the Caribbean is led by Dr Jon Copley, a Lecturer in Marine Ecology at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton (NOCS). For more information about the robotic submarines developed at NOCS, please visit these pages about the Underwater Systems Laboratory (USL) and its platforms.
One of the most important characteristics of the Autosub6000 is its autonomy. It has a range of 1,000 kilometers, thanks to its lithium polymer battery packs. As you can see above, "up to 12 battery packs can be fitted within slots in the syntactic foam which make up the centre section of the vehicle." (Credit: NOCS) This picture was extracted from the Autosub6000 specifications (PDF format, 4 pages, 262 KB).
Now, let's look back to the BBC News article to discover the Autosub6000 tasks during these missions. Basically, it will have to map the Cayman Trough, which lies between Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. "It is the world's deepest volcanic ridge and totally unexplored," Copley said to BBC. Autosub6000 will have to find the volcanic vents on the ocean floor.
It will then be helped by Isis which "will sample fluids and sediments from around the lip of the vents to test their geochemistry, and also collect animal specimens."
And the researchers are almost sure to find new species. "The temperatures around these hydrothermal vents were so hot because they were so deep, Dr Copley said. 'They could be hotter than 500°C (930°F), and if they are that hot, they will probably have quite different chemistry and life forms -- we expect to find new species.' The researchers expect that, at depths greater than 3,000m, one in every two animals they come across will be a species new to science."
Good luck to the researchers! I hope they'll have fun!
Sources: Jennifer Carpenter, BBC News, August 9, 2008; and various websites
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