Scientists to Explore Arctic Ocean Floor Using Robots
July 13, 2007 -- Hot springs located thousands of feet beneath the Arctic ice may have created a unique microbial environment that has evolved in complete isolation from other ecosystems. Scientists hope that the lessons learned from studying this field of hydrothermal vents will apply to areas ranging from metagenomics to space exploration.
An international team of researchers, based at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Mass., will remotely pilot three robots into the Gakkel Ridge, located between Greenland and Siberia. NASA partially funded the project because the findings may be applicable to future space missions to other locations with similar environmental conditions, such as Europa, a moon of Jupiter where liquid water oceans may exist beneath the icy surface.
This venture is one of many projects involved in the International Polar Year (IPY), which began in February 2007. IPY is a worldwide scientific effort to better understand the Earth’s polar regions. The National Academies' Polar Research Board, which serves as the U.S. National Committee for the International Polar Year, recommended that IPY efforts explore new scientific frontiers from the molecular to the planetary scale. These efforts should include a variety of activities such as multidisciplinary studies of terrestrial and marine biological communities, as well as investigations of subglacial environments and unexplored subglacial lakes.
This Arctic expedition may provide useful information about the potential use of robotics in future exploration of the more isolated subglacial lakes of the Antarctic. The Academies' 2007 report Exploration of Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments: Environmental and Scientific Stewardship recommended that new technologies, including automated systems, be developed to explore these environments without introducing contaminants and that multinational research projects to study Antarctic subglacial environments be encouraged by the U.S. government.