In April 2017, Boaty McBoatface went on a mission that took it deep into the Southern Ocean. The automatic submarine was studying changes in temperature at the bottom of the sea. Now, researchers have finished analyzing the data and have discovered new insights into how the climate crisis is making our oceans warmer.
Thanks to its peculiar name, the sub is an online sensation. Back in 2016, the Natural Environment Research Council asked people to name their new boat. With no parameters on what was allowed and since everyone could propose and vote, "Boaty McBoatface" quickly gained popularity, topping the poll. “Adults” at that point decided to call the ship the RRS Sir David Attenborough, after the famed British naturalist.
But the named lived on, assigned to an onboard autonomous submarine vehicle instead. Boaty successfully navigated the dangerous route getting to below 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) before rendezvousing with the Attenborough. As reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the data collected by Boaty shows a subtle interplay between winds and warmer water reaching the deep sea.
“Our study is an important step in understanding how the climate change happening in the remote and inhospitable Antarctic waters will impact the warming of the oceans as a whole and future sea level rise,” lead author Professor Alberto Naveira Garabato, from the University of Southampton, said in a statement.
Winds in the region have become stronger in recent decades due to the hole in the ozone layer and temperature increases. The strong winds are more efficient at mixing water, which leads to warmer waters at deeper levels. The warming of the seabed has dramatic consequences for both ocean dwellers and the rest of the world.
The Antarctic continent contains 90 percent of the planet’s fresh water, locked in its kilometers-thick ice sheets. If all of it melted, global sea levels would rise by a worrying 70 meters (230 feet). The wind-ocean connection discovered by Boaty McBoatface is currently not included in models that hope to predict the impact of the climate crisis on different ecosystems.
“The data from Boaty McBoatface gave us a completely new way of looking at the deep ocean – the path taken by Boaty created a spatial view of the turbulence near the seafloor,” added Dr Eleanor Frajka-Williams of the National Oceanography Centre.
Boaty McBoatface might have a silly name but its work and contribution to science are absolutely serious.