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Boaty McBoatface Just Made a Big Scientific Discovery

The submarine that the internet named in 2016 had a super successful first mission

by Alex Lubben
Jun 18 2019, 3:25pm

Boaty McBoatface just made a scientific discovery about climate change and sea-level rise.

The submarine that the internet named in 2016 had a super successful first mission down in Antarctica mapping deep ocean currents. Traveling to depths of 2.5 miles below the surface, Boaty took a journey of over 100 miles through underwater mountain ranges deep below the Southern Ocean.

And the study from the mission, published Monday, is a game-changer for future climate models as it's helped scientists realize a link between stronger winds in the Antarctic and higher sea temperatures.

Back in 2016, the U.K.’s Natural Environment Research Council put up a public poll online to name a research ship. When the internet did what it does and named the boat Boaty McBoatface, the self-serious Brits did what they do and named the boat the RSS Sir David Attenborough instead.

But they did concede to the masses somewhat: They named one of the remote-piloted submarines that operates from the Attenborough “Boaty McBoatface.”

The study produced from Boaty’s data will inform future climate models, which up until now didn’t take into account the deep ocean currents that are contributing to warming waters in the depths of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica.

Winds have gotten stronger over Antarctica due to a hole in the ozone layer above the southern continent and higher levels of greenhouse gases that have contributed to warming. Those winds are making the waters in the Southern Ocean more turbulent, causing warmer water from closer to the surface to mix with colder, denser water at greater depths.

The warming of that water in the deeps is a significant contributor to sea level rise. As it heats, water expands, and as it expands, sea levels get higher.

But none of this was factored into climate models that seek to predict sea level rise. Thanks to Boaty, now this warming water in the deep ocean will factor into future climate models.

To Boaty, scientists are grateful. “This study is a great example of how exciting new technology such as the unmanned submarine ‘Boaty McBoatface’ can be used along with ship-based measurements and cutting-edge ocean models to discover and explain previously unknown processes affecting heat transport within the ocean,” Dr. Povl Abrahamsen of the British Antarctic Survey said in a statement.

Cover: FCO Oceans strategy. Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, with Boaty McBoatface, a autonomous underwater vehicle used for scientific research, during his visit to the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton ahead of the forthcoming FCO Oceans Strategy. Picture date: Friday June 22, 2018. Photo credit should read: Matt Cardy/PA Wire URN:37140108 (Press Association via AP Images)

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