Mini submarine testing Utah water in mercury cleanup experiment

August 11, 2011 - via KSL

IRON COUNTY -- A yellow submarine has been spotted in Utah waters. Don't worry, it's not a combat vessel and it's barely big enough for a crew of beetles--the insects, not the musicians. It's part of an experiment aimed at getting toxic mercury out of the water.

She runs silent and she runs deep, when the mission calls for it. Under the waters of Newcastle Reservoir, and on the surface, she's doing the work of scientists.

She's packed with instruments and an on-board computer that communicates by wi-fi. Dave Naftz, with the U.S. Geological Survey, said, "It's nice. That's why we brought a couple of lounge chairs. It's out here doing work and we're sitting under the shade sipping some iced tea." She can slip silently past a fishing boat, although she does look something like a torpedo zeroing in on a target. Boater Jed Andreason said of the sub, "I don't know what it is, we just tried to stay out of the way."

The yellow submarine won't be pulling any water-skiers. It tops out at 4 knots, which is just over 4 miles an hour. Up close on shore she's a bit of a disappointment, only a few feet long. But she's packed with instruments and an on-board computer that communicates by Wi-Fi.

"And then we've got all our water quality data coming in here -- temperature, specific conductance, salinity, depth pH, turbidity and so on," Ryan Jackson, also with the U.S. Geological Survey explained. Its purpose is to survey the lake, top to bottom, to see if the water is getting mixed properly.

Three weeks ago scientists installed a big floating pump to suck water from the lake bottom to the top. In theory, toxic mercury contamination should go down if oxygen is taken to the bottom and if mercury is sucked up into the sunlight. "The fish caught in this reservoir, there's a 'Do Not Eat' consumption warning on these fish," Naftz said. "So we're hoping to improve this and make this fishery good again."

The submarine is being used only for a few days to see if the pumps are doing any good. If it works, many contaminated reservoirs in Utah may get pumps.

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Author:John Hollenhorst