[robotics-worldwide] [news] Underwater robot deployed under moving sea ice to explore the Karasik Seamount at 87N 61E in the Arctic Ocean

Louis Whitcomb llw at jhu.edu
Tue Nov 29 06:26:15 PST 2016

Dear Colleagues:

   On October 23, 2016 a team of engineers and scientists completed a 45 
day expedition to deploy the Nereid-UI (NUI) underwater robotic vehicle 
under moving sea ice to explore the Karasik Seamount at 87N 61E in the 
Arctic Ocean, from aboard the F/S Polarstern of the Alfred Wegener 
Institute, Bremerhaven, Germany.  The Woods Hole Oceanographic 
Institution and collaborators from the Johns Hopkins University and the 
University of New Hampshire developed NUI for the Polar Science 
Community.  NUI is a remotely-controlled underwater robotic vehicle 
capable of being teleoperated under ice under remote real-time human 
supervision.  The goal of the NUI system is to provide scientific access 
to under-ice and ice-margin environments that is presently impractical 
or infeasible.

   We conducted five NUI deployments during our three weeks at Karasik 
Seamount - two engineering dives and three science dives.  Unlike our 
2014 arctic expedition with NUI, during which we conducted dives to a 
maximum depth of 50 m to enable our scientists to study under-ice 
biology and ice-physics, on this 2016 expedition NUI descended to 
600-700 m depths to the seafloor on Karasik Seamount.

   On the engineering dives we tested NUI's various systems, and 
improved our launch, navigation, homing, and recovery methods.  It is 
now late fall in the arctic, with near 100% ice cover and new sea ice 
forming in leads between multi-year sea ice.  After our first week on 
station the sun went below the horizon for the winter.  The weather was 
challenging with regular gale-force winds that can propel the moving sea 
ice at speeds of a knot or more.  The 95-100% ice cover of moving 
sea-ice is what differentiates blue-water subsea operations from those 
in ice-covered seas, and is why structures such as the the Karasik 
Seamount and the Gakkel Ridge in the Arctic Ocean remain almost 
completely unexplored.

   On the first two science dives, NUI 014 and 015, NUI operated on the 
sea floor un-tethered and semi-autonomously, with only occasional 
commands from us via acoustic telemetry.  NUI conducted several 
multibeam bathymetric sonar surveys, performed low-level 
terrain-following photographic surveys at 2-3 m above the seafloor, and 
simultaneously collected data from on-board scientific instruments 
including upward and downward looking acoustic Doppler current 
profilers, fluorimeter, and sensors for eh (redox potential), 
conductivity, temperature, and pressure.

   On the third science dive, NUI 016, NUI utilized its expendable 
fiber-optic tether to conduct vertical and horizontal excursions on the 
sea floor from the ship (which moves with the moving ice-pack) while 
maintaining gigabit data telemetry and multiple video streams including 
HD video, under the remote control of its pilot aboard F/S Polarstern. 
NUI enabled our scientists to observe seafloor biology and geology, and 
to collect biological and geological samples.  This was the first time 
NUI's light fiber-optic tether system has been used to conduct otherwise 
routine sampling and survey operations on the sea floor beneath moving 
sea ice.  The tethering system maintains high-bandwidth communications 
while decoupling NUI's motion from the ship.  This is critical in 
ice-covered waters because even ice breakers cannot hold position in 
moving ice.

     Here are some web sites with more information:


   We are grateful for support for this expedition from the NASA PSTAR 
Program under grant #NNX16AL04G, project title "Oases for Life in Ice 
Covered Oceans", PI Christopher German, WHOI.  The NUI at-sea team on 
Polarstern 101 is Christopher German (our team's science lead and CO-PI 
on the NUI NSF MRI development grant), Michael V. Jakuba (NUI 
engineering and ops lead), John Bailey, Casey Machado, Stefano Suman, 
all from WHOI, Jill McDermott from Lehigh University, Kevin Hand and 
Andrew Branch from NASA JPL, and me from JHU/WHOI.  I was CO-PI of the 
NSF MRI Grant that funded NUI's development.

   We are grateful to the many engineers and scientists who supported 
the NUI development and operations efforts before and during this 
expedition including the WHOI Deep Submergence Operations Group and the 
WHOI Acoustic Communications Group.  We are particularly grateful to 
expedition Chief Scientist Prof. Dr. Antje Boetius 
(https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.mpi-2Dbremen.de_Antje-5FBoetius.html&d=DgICaQ&c=clK7kQUTWtAVEOVIgvi0NU5BOUHhpN0H8p7CSfnc_gI&r=0w3solp5fswiyWF2RL6rStC00sfV_qVWqlcnmGhKrRoTMim5rLso-FTzVW2NfNyo&m=NDXFZnGledMw1TI--xvJspDNOVTTyG67ik8C7b2pzTo&s=k14fNqjSMYngQH1VsIVnpk1wpE-8TISGG1E94I9-IwM&e= ), and to the  officers, 
crew, science party of Polarstern expedition 101.

   Best Regards,


Louis L. Whitcomb, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering
223 Latrobe Hall, 3400 N. Charles Street
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, 21218-2681
ME Chair: ME_Dept_Chair at jhu.edu 410-516-5970, www.me.jhu.edu
Faculty:  llw at jhu.edu, 410-516-6724, dscl.me.jhu.edu
Sr. Admin. Coordinator: Ms. Deana Santoni dsantoni at jhu.edu

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