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Expensive research equipment lost under 'Doomsday Glacier'.

Expensive research equipment lost under 'Doomsday Glacier'.

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

The RAN underwater vehicle disappeared after diving under the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. A loss that hits science hard.

Antarctica – Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier, also known as the “Doomsday Glacier”, is famous for its sheer size and the potential dangers it poses. If it melts completely, experts estimate that sea levels could rise by about 65 cm. The Thwaites Glacier covers an area of ​​192,000 square kilometers, the size of the state of Florida, and the Pine Island Glacier prevents the West Antarctic Ice Sheet from flowing into the sea.

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

An unmanned underwater vehicle has disappeared under the Doomsday Glacier.

As climate changes and ocean temperatures rise, the glacier is being studied by scientists who want to know what happens to the massive ice. However, an expensive piece of research equipment was lost during this research work in Antarctica: the unmanned underwater vehicle RAN did not surface after diving under the glacier.

According to the university, the seven-and-a-half-meter-long diving device, affiliated with the University of Gothenburg, is equipped with the latest technologies and sensors that can record and document the underwater environment. Ran can stay underwater for long periods, explains Anna Whalen, leader of the project during which the device disappeared: “This was the second time we took Ran to the Thwaites Glacier to explore the area.” To document under the ice.”

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The RAN research device was able to look under the 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,” Wallen adds. Conditions beneath a glacier are often completely unknown. “Although you can see 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 said in one of the studies. notice.

Wåhlin and her research team were on board the South Korean icebreaker RV/IV Araon. Before each dive, a path is programmed for the device, so that it does not remain in constant contact with the research vessel. With the help of the navigation system, Ran finds his way back to open water. However, this did not work on the last planned dive in January, and the word “Ran” did not appear in the programmed location. Both voice search and helicopter and drone searches have not been successful.

Antarctica researcher: “Something unexpected happened under the ice”

“It's kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack without knowing where it is,” Whalen says. “At this point, Ran's batteries are dead. All we know is that something unexpected happened under the ice. We suspect he got into trouble and then couldn't get out.”

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

The research team knew that something could happen during any dive and that a lot was at stake. However, it is worth the risk, Whalen emphasizes: “The data we receive from Rann is unique in the world and of great value for international research.” The loss of Ran is a serious blow. “We have had Ran for five years, and in these five years we have carried out about ten missions, training, development and testing work,” the researcher says.

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The RAN underwater vehicle costs more than 3 million euros

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. We will look for a financier,” said Wåhlin. “Even if the device is lost, the knowledge and well-trained staff remain in the organization.” (unpaid bill)

The editor wrote this article and then used an AI language model to improve at her own discretion. All information has been carefully checked. Find out more about our AI principles here.