Glacier Expedition a Success for NUWC Newport and NASA

Story Number: NNS120921-05Release Date: 9/21/2012 8:20:00 AM
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From Naval Undersea Warfare Center Newport Public Affairs

NEWPORT, R.I. (NNS) -- To meet data collection challenges in remote arctic waters, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) contacted Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Newport in August to tap its expertise in the development and deployment of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs).

In recent years, NASA has had difficulty studying the rapid shrinking of Greenland glaciers because of the difficulty of deploying people or oceanographic instrumentation. Oceanography near the faces of these glaciers has proven to be particularly challenging.

NUWC Newport was asked to support a team from New York University (NYU) at the Helheim Glacier on the east coast of Greenland to perform mapping and gather oceanography data to better understand the behavior of the glacier. The trip was also designed to evaluate NUWC Newport's AUV's measurement techniques.

NASA needed more precise mapping and oceanography data to better understand the flows of fresh water and ocean water near the glacier.

"NASA's end goal is to get to the front of the glacier, which they've never been able to do adequately because of ice, depth, and the long transit," said William Weiss, NUWC Newport's climate change expert. "This was our first opportunity to get to this region."

NUWC Newport scientists Nathan Banks and Glenn Donovan traveled with Weiss to a remote port in Greenland to complete the mission. Their work focused on determining a method for an AUV to reach the glacier, finding a sonar system that would work with both glacial and arctic ice, and understanding the operational challenges inherent in such an isolated environment. The team also assessed operational logistics for future AUV operations through the deployment of a glider AUV for oceanography and a multi-narrow beam sonar for iceberg profiling and creation of future obstacle avoidance algorithms.

The glider, developed by ANT, LLC, was chosen to collect conductivity temperature and depth (CTD) measurements for NYU. The vehicle, which is six feet long and weighs 265 pounds, can submerge as deep as 200 meters, travel up to two knots, and remain active for two weeks on primary alkaline battery power. The glider was programmed to pass back and forth across the fjord for three days to collect and compile CTD data. The team also used a multibeam sonar to collect imaging data of the ice in the fjord.

The expedition met all of NUWC Newport's objectives. The team gathered data to accurately assess the project's next steps, which may include deployment of NUWC Newport's Mid-sized Autonomous Reconfigurable Vehicle (MARV), an AUV designed for mapping and sonar survey, to the arctic. The ultimate goal would be to have the MARV reach the remote glacier.

"We know that the Navy recognizes climate change as a global concern, and it's important for us to contribute in an area that benefits the Navy and the world," said Mike Ansay, NUWC Newport's head of the Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Technology Payloads and Operations Branch. "This data will help everyone on the planet."

NUWC Newport, part of the Naval Sea System Command, is one of two divisions of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. NUWC Newport's mission is to provide research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures. NUWC's other division is located in Keyport, Wash.

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