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News Story - Autosub trapped under the Antarctic ice shelf

Date: 21 Feb 2005

Autosub, the Natural Environment Research Council's unmanned, self-propelled research submarine, is trapped beneath Fimbul Ice Shelf, Antarctica close to South Africa's SANAE base. The vehicle is some seventeen kilometres from the edge of the ice shelf beneath ice over two hundred metres thick. It is unlikely Autosub can be recovered and the cause of the failure is unknown. The mission began on Wednesday morning (16 February). Autosub was due to collect more environmental data from beneath the Antarctic ice shelf. This is one of the most inaccessible and most poorly known environments on earth. Knowledge of this region is fundamental to our understanding of issues such as the role of the ocean in climate change, ice melting and the biology beneath the ice shelf. The earlier mission on Sunday 13th February was the first time a vehicle has been sent under the shelf ice in Antarctica and returned. This single mission has provided a great step forward in our understanding of the true nature of the underside of the ice shelf. Prior to its loss the seven metre long submarine had completed 382 successful missions over eight years for marine science in UK waters, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the Arctic and on two previous expeditions to the Antarctic. A new Autosub is in the final stages of construction and engineers at the Southampton Oceanography Centre plan for it to be in use by September 2005. The current expedition is part of the NERC's Autosub Under Ice research programme which aims to explore the marine environment beneath floating ice shelves. Autosub follows a pre-programmed track carrying out scientific observations as it goes. The programme brings together scientists from a number of areas including oceanographers, geologists, glaciologists, biologists and engineers from all over the United Kingdom and is taking place onboard the British Antarctic Survey's Royal Research Ship the James Clark Ross . The cruise continues and ship-based oceanography, biology, sea-ice physics and marine geology is still being undertaken as part of this expedition. ENDS -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Notes to editors 1. Press Contacts Natural Environment Research Council Marion O'Sullivan: tel: 01793 411727 / 07917 086369 Owen Gaffney: tel: 01793 442629 / 07747 564305 e-mail: pressoffice@nerc.ac.uk 2. The expedition is part of the Natural Environment Research Council's Autosub Under Ice research programme which aims to explore the marine environment beneath floating ice shelves. Autosub follows a pre-programmed track, carrying out scientific observations as it goes. The programme brings together scientists from a number of areas including oceanographers, geologists, glaciologists, biologists and engineers from all over the United Kingdom and is taking place onboard RRS James Clark Ross. 3. More Autosub information: http://www.soc.soton.ac.uk/OED/index.php?page=as http://www.soc.soton.ac.uk/PR/Autosub.html 4.Contact the press office for recent photographs. 5. Southampton Oceanography Centre is a joint venture between NERC and the University of Southampton.