A $5 million autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) named nupiri muka has been successfully deployed under the Sørsdal Glacier ice shelf during the summer Antarctic season, supported by the Australian Antarctic Division with funding through the ARC’s Special Research Initiative: Antarctic Gateway Partnership at the University of Tasmania.

The way in which ice shelves melt is connected to what is happening underneath them, and how ocean circulation and water properties such as temperature and salinity interact with the ice. The nupiri muka has allowed the research team to study these variables as well as mapping the profiles of the sea bed and the underside of sea ice and the Antarctic ice shelf. The AUV has also enabled sonar imagery and the collection of large amounts of data across extensive areas.

Director of the Antarctic Gateway Partnership, Professor Richard Coleman, noted that the AUV’s recent trip permitted a rare view underneath an ice shelf in the lead-up to a calving event, where ice chunks suddenly break away from the edge of a glacier.

The successful deployment means Australia has joined a small number of countries with an AUV capable of independently exploring under polar ice, opening the way for more ambitious future polar research projects under sea ice and ice shelves.

Image (top): AUV near Sørsdal Glacier.
Image (bottom): AUV team at Davis Base.
Credit: Australian Antarctic Division.