February 25, 2024

An underwater vehicle was lost under the Doomsday Glacier.

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The unmanned research vehicle RAN has disappeared under the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. The research team has no hope.

Antarctica – The Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica has a bad reputation: it is nicknamed the “Doomsday Glacier” because it is so large that melting it would likely have catastrophic consequences: sea levels are then expected to rise by about 65 centimeters According to experts' estimates. Thwaites covers an area of ​​192,000 square kilometers (comparable to the US state of Florida) and, along with the Pine Island Glacier, prevents the West Antarctic Ice Sheet from flowing into the sea.

The unmanned underwater vehicle RAN has disappeared under the Thwaites Doomsday Glacier in Antarctica. (Archive photo) © Anna Valen

Under Doomsday Glacier Thwaites: An underwater vehicle disappears

In light of climate change and rising sea temperatures, the glacier is being studied by researchers who want to know what happens to all the ice. But during such research work in Antarctica, an expensive piece of research equipment has now been lost: the unmanned underwater vehicle RAN did not surface after diving under the glacier.

he ran
Autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV)
7.5 metres
1850 kilograms
1-7 knots (1-13 km/h)
3000 meters
300 km
36 hours
Source: University of Gothenburg

The seven-and-a-half-meter-long diving device belongs to the University of Gothenburg, and according to the university, it is equipped with modern technology and sensors that can measure and document the vehicle’s underwater surroundings. Ran can stay underwater for a long time. “This was the second time we had taken the Rann device to Thwaites Glacier to document the area under the ice,” says Anna Whalen, who led the project that led to the device's disappearance.

The underwater vehicle allows you to see under glaciers

“Thanks to Rann, we were the first researchers in the world to enter the Thwaites Glacier in 2019, and during the current expedition we visited the same area again,” Whalen continued. What it looks like under a glacier is often completely unknown. “Although you can see the melting and movements in the ice using satellite data, with RAN we get close-ups of the underside of the ice and information about exactly the mechanisms behind the melting,” the researcher explains in one of the articles. notice.

Research expedition under the Antarctic glacier: 'Something unexpected happened'

Wåhlin was traveling with a research team on the South Korean icebreaker RV/IV Araon. Before research cruises, the device is programmed with the route and is not in constant contact with the research vessel under the ice. With the help of the navigation system, Ran finds his way back to open water. But on the last planned dive in January, this did not work, and the word “Ran” did not appear in the programmed location. Voice search was futile, as was search by helicopter and drone.

“It's a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack without knowing where it is,” Valin compares the situation. “At this point, Ran’s batteries ran out. All we know is that something unexpected happened under the ice. “We suspect he got into trouble and then couldn’t get out,” the researcher suspects.

Researcher Anna Whalen stands in front of the unmanned research vehicle
Researcher Anna Whalen stands in front of the unmanned research vehicle RAN, now lost beneath the Thwaites Doomsday Glacier. (Archive photo) © Olof Lönnheid

Thwaites Glacier: Underwater device provided 'unique data'

The research team was aware that something could happen on every dive, as there was always a lot at stake. But it's clearly worth it, Whalen stresses: “The data we receive from RAN are unique in the world and of great value for international research.” The truth is that Ran's disappearance represents a great loss. The researcher said: “We have had RAN for five years, and in these five years we have carried out about ten missions, training, development and testing work.”

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The RAN underwater vehicle was purchased in 2015 for 38 million Swedish krona (about 3.37 million euros) by a foundation affiliated with the University of Gothenburg. “Our goal is to replace RAN,” says Wåhlin. “We will look for a financier.” Even if the ship is lost, knowledge and well-trained staff remain in the organization. (unpaid bill)