Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Boaty's first big adventure

Boaty into the water

The British National Oceanography Centre (NOC) Autosub Boaty McBoatface entered the Weddell Sea on 3 April 2017. Boaty decided to return "home" to the ship twice during this day, each time requiring minor software modifications to give him the confidence to cruise into the abyss.  Then, late night 3 April, Boaty was on his own in the deep Southern Ocean for about a day.  He "sailed" around the Orkney Passage near the bottom (around 3500m), sampling the temperature, salinity, pressure (CTD), velocity (ADCP), and turbulence (shear and temperature variance microstructure probes).  Everyone was pleased, not the least Steve McPhail and Rob Templeton, the two NOC engineers on the cruise in charge of Boaty's mission.

The UK NOC autosub Boaty McBoatface being lowered into the Weddell Sea on 3 April 2017 from the BAS research vessel JC Ross. 

Tom, Rob (with smile of satisfaction), and Simon (back to camera) on deck after deploying Boaty.

Boaty returns safely 

We recovered Boaty late 4 April, along with about 1Gb of oceanographic data that is presently being analyzed. Steve and Rob are also running various diagnostics on Boaty, both mechanical and software, in preparation for another mission when a weather window opens.  Overall, everyone is satisfied with this successful maiden voyage of Boaty into the Southern Ocean abyss.
Alberto and Steve pondering why Boaty returned so soon after the first deployment.  A bit of minor troubleshooting led to the eventual full trip for Boaty into the abyss.
Acoustic tracking of Boaty.  Boaty's trajectory was basically a square as he descended, which became more circular due to drift with the currents. The ship is in the center, and Boaty is about 300m radially away at the time of this photo.
Boaty being brought onboard after his first test deployment. He later went back in for the deep dive into the abyss.

Weather is always a player

The weather is a constant player in all of our science.  For example, the weather forecast for today predicted a relatively mild 10-15 knot wind and modest sea state. Instead, we had snow for most of the day, 40 knot wind gusts, and relatively rough seas.  This sort of weather is not friendly to VMP, CTD, or Boaty deployment and recovery.  Fortunately, we were able to recover Boaty last night before the weather turned too rough (though it was snowing), and we recovered a VMP late today without problems. We just now deployed a CTD, after a rather careful entry to the waters to minimize the pendulum action of the CTD.

Recovering Boaty at night in a snow storm on the Weddell Sea.


  1. What an adventure! I'm really enjoying your posts, thanks for writing this blog. And yay for Boaty McBoatface :) I look forward to seeing you back in Princeton. Keep up the good work!

  2. Hi, Great blog - very detailed and helpful explanations. Bit surprised Boaty's voyage was just 30 hours, I'd read six months somewhere. Will you be leaving Boaty at sea until next summer?

    1. Mark,

      Many thanks for your compliments regarding the blog, and for your question. Here is a response from the cruise's chief science officer, Prof. Alberto Naveira Garabato from Southampton University.

      The way in which we are using Boaty - asking it to navigate narrow valleys and cliffs at the bottom of the Orkney Passage - is one of the most challenging ways in which it can be used. It would be much easier to ask Boaty to cross a large ocean basin at shallow depths, where it would encounter no obstacles. Because of the complexity of the Orkney Passage bottom, and because we are investigating ocean turbulence in a relatively small region, we are sending Boaty on relatively short missions while in the Southern Ocean. These missions are much shorter than Boaty's endurance, which is indeed several months.

      So in short, we will be deploying Boaty in the Orkney Passage region of the Southern Ocean for just a day or two per mission, during which time he measures ocean properties (temperature, salinity, velocity) and turbulence, all near to the complex ocean bottom in the Orkney Passage.

      I hope that helps answer your questions.

  3. Thank you, Stephen and Professor Garabato for your replies. I have a clearer understanding now of what you are wanting Boaty to do, and that just one specification - like range - only tells a small part of what your robot sub can do. I wish you well with Boaty's next missions, I guess when those 60 knot winds die down.

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