An unmanned underwater vessel owned by the University of Tasmania spent an incredible seven hours under ice during recent Antarctic research.
The $5 million, eight metre, 2000kg Autonomous Underwater Vessel nupiri muka travelled 60 kilometres under 300m-thick pack ice to collect samples.
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In its first voyage early last year the AUV travelled just 700m under the ice shelf to a depth of 1300m.
This year the AUV had significantly upgraded capabilities including doubled battery capacity which enable it to stay under the water twice as long.
Nevertheless University of Tasmania AUV Facility Coordinator Peter King said it had been a nervous wait for the AUV to return from under the ice.
"It was a huge relief when we heard the first ping from nupiri muka's transmitter on its return after nearly seven hours of silence during the 60km return voyage beneath the ice," Mr King said.
The vessel's task was to collect samples at the remote Thwaites Glacier which is a key site for the ice melt that leads to sea-level rise.
IMAS Associate Professor Delphine Lannuzel said the AUV mapped the inflow of warm water and collected 46 valuable trace-metal free water samples from previously inaccessible areas.
The research team accompanying nupiri muka also flew drones to collect water samples at 11 sites.
"Thwaites Glacier is significant because its rate of ice loss has more than doubled in the last 30-years," Associate Professor Lannuzel said.
The research was conducted in collaboration with the Korean Polar Research Institute.
Antarctic Gateway Partnership Director Professor Richard Coleman said the AUV was one of few in the world capable of operating autonomously under the ice.