Norwich researchers to use underwater robots and Boaty McBoatface for £20m Antarctic glacier project

The University of East Anglia will be involved in a major project to assess how quickly a glacier is

The University of East Anglia will be involved in a major project to assess how quickly a glacier is collapsing. Picture: US National Science Foundation/US Antarctic Program - Credit: Archant

Researchers in Norwich will use underwater robots as part of a £20m project to explore how quickly a large Antarctic glacier could collapse.

The University of East Anglia will be involved in a major project to assess how quickly a glacier is

The University of East Anglia will be involved in a major project to assess how quickly a glacier is collapsing. Picture: MIke Lucibella/NSF/US Antarctic Program - Credit: Archant

The multimillion pound project will try to understand how quickly the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica could collapse, and what impact it will have on global sea levels.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) have joined the initiative, which is launched today and involves around 100 scientists from institutions in the UK, America, South Korea, Germany, Sweden, New Zealand and Finland.

The glacier already drains an area roughly the size of Britain, accounting for around 4pc of global sea level rise - a figure which has doubled since the mid 1990s.

UEA researchers will lead one of eight large-scale projects, which will be codenamed TARSAN - Thwaites-Amundsen Regional Survey and Network - and will investigate how the ocean and atmosphere affect the glacier.

The University of East Anglia will be involved in a major project to assess how quickly a glacier is

The University of East Anglia will be involved in a major project to assess how quickly a glacier is collapsing. Picture: British Antarctic Survey - Credit: Archant


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They will use underwater robots called Seagliders to measure ocean circulation and thinning beneath the floating part of the glacier - as well as research vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough, better known to many as Boaty McBoatface.

Professor Karen Heywood, from UEA's school or environmental sciences, said: 'Our ambitious project is the only one of the eight projects that will look simultaneously at the atmosphere, the ice, and the ocean.

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'We are going to study two floating ice shelves - Thwaites and the nearby Dotson ice shelf - that behave in different ways. This will enable us to understand why they behave differently - the ocean under one ice shelf might be different, for example colder, or the underside of the ice shelf might be different, for example rougher.

'We are going to send the UK's autonomous submarine, nicknamed Boaty McBoatface, underneath the ice shelves to investigate.

'TARSAN is a big international project, led by UEA and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, which will keep us busy for the next five years. Interestingly it is the only one of the eight projects led by women scientists.'

They will take the submarine to the Antarctic in early 2019 for its first adventure in ice-covered regions.

The nearest permanently occupied research station to the Thwaites Glacier is more than 1,600 kilometres away.

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