UW building underwater robots to study oceans around Antarctica

Hannah Hickey

UW News

The water circling Antarctica has some of the roughest, most dangerous conditions on the planet. This water also is crucially important to Earth’s climate: It stores a massive amount of carbon dioxide, supports vast communities of marine life and connects to all the major ocean basins.

UW oceanography professor Stephen Riser (right) and oceanography students with a disassembled model of one of the bigger, more complex SOCCOM floats. All the floats are painted school-bus yellow, and for the same reason: it makes them easy to spot.Dennis Wise/University of Washington

To learn how these waters work, University of Washington oceanographers are sending robots to monitor conditions too dangerous or expensive for research ships to visit regularly.

“The Southern Ocean is taking up a sizable fraction of all the atmospheric CO2 that goes into the ocean. But we know very little about the Southern Ocean, especially under the ice,” said Stephen Riser, a UW professor of oceanography.

His group has built Argo ocean-monitoring floats since 1999, and still builds about 120 per year for several international efforts. The hardy, low-power robots cruise through the world’s oceans collecting observations, what The New York Times a few years ago called “one of the scientific triumphs of the age.” The Seattle group is now in the middle of its toughest mission yet.     Read more...