The latest generation of the Autosub family of robot submarines will tomorrow be launched on its first mission - a 30-day deployment off the coast of Donegal in Ireland.
Developed by scientists at NERC's National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) is fitted with the latest oceanographic sensors, battery technology and satellite communications kit.
While on its first mission it will be collecting data for the UK FASTNEt (Fluxes Across Sloping Topography of the North East Atlantic) consortium's four-year research programme into the little-known slopes of the edges of the ocean shelf. This is where the UK's shallow coastal waters meet the deep ocean as the seabed drops steeply downwards. It's a nutrient-rich area with abundant sea life, and is important for fisheries.
The FASTNEt programme aims to get a better understanding of how water is exchanged between the UK shelf-edge seas and the deep ocean. Autosub Long Range will travel along the ocean shelf edge using its sensors to map the continental slop down to 1500 metres, while remotely-operated underwater gliders explore the water column above. All this will be combined with measurements taken from research ships and long-term mooring buoys, letting scientists study the area in unprecedented detail.
Weather permitting, the plucky AUV will be launched tomorrow from a small harbour in Donegal. It'll be towed out into the bay and will then proceed under its own power to the area it's assigned to study. It's designed with an ultra-long range of 6000 kilometres, letting it roam independently for around six months, so it's designed for endurance rather than speed.
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