I'm always excited when a new tool is added to our kit for understanding the world and its life. The latest new tool is Isis, a remotely operated, deep water submarine that the British are about to launch off Antarctica. Isis was built in collaboration with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and is based on the design of WHOI's famous Jason II remotely operated sub.
Following training missions at Loch Ness and other places, Isis is ready for her first scientific mission.
Professor Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, is the principal investigator on this three-week-long inaugural research cruise.
He will be using Isis to investigate in fine detail the sea-floor sediments, which have been delivered to Marguerite Bay by the massive ice-sheets that covered the bay about 20,000 years ago.
The ROV will be traversing the relatively shallow waters of the bay to the continental shelf edge and then down the steeper continental slope beyond.
"The environmental history of the Antarctic is held in these sediments," he said.
Marguerite Bay is on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula and was under ice during the last ice age. Besides studying the sediment, Isis will take a census of ocean floor species at different depths. The bay should be comparable to the Southeast coast of Alaska or Norway. Both of those areas were under ice during the ice ages and now host vibrant, though over fished, ecosystems.
After the Marguerite Bay mission, Isis will head back to Europe to spend some time with the HERMES team, which does research on the deep sea margins of Europe.