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Monday, 27 April, 1998, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
'Autosub' to explore Bermuda Triangle
Autosub1 during recent trials
Autosub1 during recent trials
Scientists at the Southampton Oceanography Centre are preparing to send a state of the art 'underwater satellite' on its most adventurous mission to date. Our science correspondent David Whitehouse reports:

The unmanned submarine, or Autosub, will ultimately explore parts of the oceans where it would be too dangerous for man to go. It will make solo voyages across oceans, diving and surfacing many times, to make measurements of the oceans' properties.

Such details will give scientists a better understanding of the seas that cover 70% of our planet. This should enable us to exploit the resources of the sea more sustainably and look for signs of global warming.

The head of SOC's Ocean Technology Division, Dr Gwyn Griffiths, says: "The future of ocean exploration lies with unmanned underwater satellites like Autosub. We're using outer space concepts to explore the deep ocean."

Autosub1 with the Royal Research Ship Discovery
Autosub1 with the Royal Research Ship Discovery
Autosub has been designed to perform autonomous missions carrying a range of sensors into the ocean.

Last December, it voyaged off the coast of Florida travelling alone and out of contact for over 110km and 19 hours measuring the properties of the Gulf Stream.

Autosub used radar soundings of the ocean floor to navigate. It also has the ability to rise to the surface and determine its position by satellite as well as making contact with the scientists controlling it.

"In a way it's like communicating with a satellite in orbit," says Dr Griffiths.

The next mission is to Bermuda, in the notorious Bermuda Triangle, to carry out an exercise with American scientists from the National Science Foundation and the University of California.

It will orbit a science platform situated in the mid-ocean adding to the ocean measurements it is taking.

Preparing to deploy Autosub1
Preparing to deploy Autosub1
Scientists hope that Autosub will be able to answer important questions about global warming that only the oceans can provide.

Observations show that recent changes in the extent of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice has been dramatic.

Changes in the area of ice shelves are easy to measure from satellites but measuring the thickness of sea ice is another matter.

Travelling under sea ice is too dangerous for manned submarines carrying scientists, so it would be a mission only Autosub could perform.

Heading out to sea
Heading out to sea
Scientists know almost nothing about ocean circulation under the ice shelf. For example, the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf floating just off Antarctica has an area of 500,000 square kilometres but has been penetrated by only a small number of boreholes.

Later this year, Autosub will begin a two-year project carrying out missions for British scientists.

The missions under consideration will take Autosub to both poles, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean.

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Dr Gwyn Griffiths of the Southampton Oceanography Centre explains what Autosub can do
See also:

27 Mar 98 | Sci/Tech
Weather secrets of the ocean
07 Apr 98 | Sci/Tech
Voyage to the 'real' North Pole
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