Scientific Submersible Lost in Antarctica: A Blow to Climate Research
In June 2023, global attention was captivated as search teams scoured the North Atlantic waters around the Titanic wreckage for a missing submersible carrying five passengers. Fast forward to the present, and another submersible has vanished off the coast of Antarctica, albeit not carrying humans like the Titan submersible. This loss, however, deals a significant blow to scientific exploration.
The Ran submersible, purchased by the University of Gothenburg in Sweden for approximately $3.6 million in 2015, measured 23 feet in length and was one of only three scientific submersibles of its kind worldwide. It disappeared during remote research activities, where scientists were utilizing the submersible to study the melting dynamics of the Thwaites Glacier, also ominously known as the “Doomsday Glacier.” The complete melting of this ice mass could potentially elevate global sea levels by over 10 feet, making it a crucial area of study for researchers investigating climate change impacts on the region.
Professor Anna Wåhlin, a leader on the project and an expert in physical oceanography, expressed the significance of the submersible’s role. “Thanks to Ran, we became the first researchers in the world to enter Thwaites in 2019,” she explained. “Even if you see melting and movements in the ice from satellite data, from Ran we get close-ups of the underside of the ice and information about exactly which mechanisms are behind the melting.”
Regrettably, hopes of locating the missing submersible are dim. Wåhlin likened the search to finding a needle in a haystack, without even knowing the haystack’s location. With Ran’s batteries now depleted, the mystery deepens. “At this point, Ran’s batteries are dead. All we know is that something unexpected happened under the ice. We suspect it ran into trouble, and then something prevented it from getting out.”
In a twist of irony, it appears that seals residing beneath the Antarctic ice might stand a better chance of stumbling upon Ran. The loss of this unique scientific tool represents a setback in the ongoing efforts to comprehend and address the profound impacts of climate change on polar regions.