Small yellow submarine Boaty McBoatface is off to its first scientific mission in the Antarctic this month.

The unmanned vehicle was called as such after a competition in the United Kingdom sought out names for the new polar research ship. At one point, the country’s Natural Environment Research Council overrode the winning “Boaty McBoatface” entry in its own contest and mulled naming the vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough instead.

Naming Controversy

A campaign from the NERC asked the public to suggest names for the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), poised to travel beneath ice at depths of 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) and transmit collected data to scientists through a radio link.

The NERC said it would have the final say on the £200 million (around $244 million) ship, now being constructed by Cammell Laird in Birkenhead. So it instead named it after naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, reported The Guardian.

In a previous interview, Attenborough said it would be huge honor to see the ship named after him. In response to questions about the Boaty label, he said that the name proposed by a radio journalist was likely “meant in a jokey kind of way,” after which people also probably voted in a joking manner.

“People take the names of their ships quite seriously. I served in the navy at the end of the late 1940s and we cared about the name of our ship,” he said.

Agency bosses, however, finally decided to honor the public vote and let the Boaty name for the remotely operated submarine live in.

Boaty’s Antarctic Mission

Boaty McBoatface’s mission, however, is not one to be taken lightly. It is tasked to probe water flow as well as turbulence in the dark recesses of the Orkney Passage, a deep region off the Southern Ocean. The resulting data will assist researchers in further understanding how the oceans act in response to global warming.

It will travel with an expedition called Dynamics of the Orkney Passage Outflow (DynOPO) on the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) research vessel James Clark Ross, leading from Chile’s Punta Arenas on March 17.

“The Orkney Passage is a key choke-point to the flow of abyssal waters in which we expect the mechanism linking changing winds to abyssal water warming to operate,” explained lead scientist and University of Southampton professor Alberto Naveira Garabato.

The team will measure the speed of stream flow, turbulence, and their response to wind changes over the ocean in a bid to determine complex processes in the area and represent them in climate models predicting changes in the 21st century and beyond.

Boaty will be provided with acoustic and chemical sensors in 2019 and deployed into the North Sea to scour for signals linked to artificial release of gas under the seabed. Boaty is also planned to cross the Arctic Ocean under ice for the first time, a groundbreaking research effort in this critical region.

The UK’s National Oceanography Center has also released Boaty’s cartoon version to educate children on marine research, with a full-sized, inflatable version planned to travel to events nationwide.

A study this month warned that severe ocean acidification is engulfing the Arctic Ocean, particularly the Western Arctic Ocean, and a host of marine animals including shellfish and other crucial links in the food web are bearing the brunt of the changes.

Acidification at the Arctic sea, according to researchers, is exacerbated by the entry of Pacific Ocean waters into the Arctic during winters and abetted by ocean currents and Arctic sea ice loss, which allows for expanding the acidic water levels.

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