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Gavia AUV Produces Images of Arctic Ice

The top of the ice floe the AUV is mapping from underneath.

The top of the ice floe the AUV is mapping from underneath.

A photo of the deployment hole and the spring sun shining through the three-meter-thick ice, taken by a camera on the upside-down-flying Gavia AUV. Photos used with permission. Image copyright Martin Doble, DAMTP, University of Cambridge, U.K.

A photo of the deployment hole and the spring sun shining through the three-meter-thick ice, taken by a camera on the upside-down-flying Gavia AUV. Photos used with permission. Image copyright Martin Doble, DAMTP, University of Cambridge, U.K.

Inside the hut, Richard Yeo holds the tether line during the early deployments. A hot air duct at the top keeps the hole ice free.

Inside the hut, Richard Yeo holds the tether line during the early deployments. A hot air duct at the top keeps the hole ice free.

May 11, 2007. The GAVIA man-portable autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) has returned from its latest trip to the Arctic circle, where it collected bathymetry and side scan data from the underside of the Arctic ice sheet.

The Gavia was created by Hafmynd, Iceland, and carried a GeoSwath wide swath sonar from GeoAcoustics, U.K.

The testing was carried out from the Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station 2007 (APLIS07), which was built in the Beaufort Sea approximately 300 miles north of Alaska. The 2.6-meter-long by 20-centimeter-diameter AUV was launched through a three-meter by one-meter hole melted through the ice, and sent on a series of short out-and-back survey missions from the ice hole.

For this survey it was ballasted to fly upside-down so that the camera, GeoSwath mapping sonar and Doppler velocity log (DVL) were looking upwards. The survey team was fascinated by the haunting photographs returned by the AUV, showing the spring sun shining through the three-meter-thick ice sheet.

First indications are that the bathymetry and side-scan data collection were successful, with only small changes required in the GeoSwath post-processing routines to cope with the unit’s inverted flying. The Kearfott Inertial Navigation System (INS), which provided positioning fixes for the survey operations, also coped remarkably well with this fairly unusual deployment.

The mission to APLIS is part of an ongoing research program led by Professor Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP), Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge.

This research is aimed at investigating the ability of airborne ice thickness measurements to reflect the volume of the ice contained in areas with complex cracking and ridging, and also at understanding the structure of ridges and why they are melting so fast. This could have a significant impact on the accuracy of parameters used in climate change modeling.

The ability of the GeoSwath sonar to generate a 3-D digital terrain map of the ice underside allows significant new advances to be made in understanding the nature of the ice. The survey results are being analyzed at the Polar Ocean Physics Group, with a view to publication in scientific journals in the near future.

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