A new type of robotic submersible craft is giving scientists unprecedented access to the freezing waters beneath the icy crust of Antarctica. Icefin, as its creators at Georgia Tech dubbed it, is a tubular submersible that's launched by dropping it down a hole bored through dozens of feet of ice. With space on board for a number of instruments, Icefin is more versatile than the small craft usually deployed this way, and it can range further under the ice than big submersibles launched from open water.
"Our vehicle has instrumentation aboard both for navigation and ocean science that other vehicles do not," said Mick West, principal engineer on the Icefin project. "To have our very first deep-ocean dive happen through a small hole in the ice and go all the way to the ocean bottom and get the video we did was pretty amazing."
Video and other readings from Icefin will illuminate the dark, cold, and largely unknown ecosystem underneath Antarctic ice shelves. Many creatures have already been spotted, and environmental sensors will help map the ice and track changes.
The researchers even hinted that tests in the Antarctic might lead to better understanding of icy extraterrestrial environments like Jupiter's moon, Europa. More images of the Icefin launch can be found at Georgia Tech's Flickr page.
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