Deep deep down

The UK’s deepest-diving robot submarine has successfully completed its first science mission, in the Atlantic Ocean.

The UK‘s deepest-diving robot submarine has successfully completed its first mission, in the Atlantic Ocean.

The mission formed part of a research expedition investigating potential threats from tsunamis, giant landslides and earthquakes to coastal communities along the west-European margin.

The Autosub6000 was developed by British engineers and can dive to a depth of 6,000 metres – nearly four miles. An Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), the Autosub6000 is not controlled from the surface and is pre-programmed before each mission.

For its first scientific mission, Autosub6000 was released from the research vessel RRS James Cook and sent almost three miles below the surface to investigate a submarine canyon north of the Canary Islands.

Upon its return to the surface, some 24 hours later, the vehicle provided scientists with spectacular 3D images showing holes in the seafloor the size of a football stadium.

These holes were formed by giant submarine flows that ripped up huge volumes of seafloor sediment and carried the material up to 1,000km further offshore.

Dr Russell Wynn, chief scientist on the RRS James Cook, said: ‘The submarine is providing valuable information about the huge scale and immense power of these giant submarine flows.’

Autosub6000’s next mission is off the Portuguese coast where it will search for submarine evidence of the devastating 1755 Lisbon earthquake.

The earthquake killed over 10,000 people and generated a tsunami that even reached southwest England.

Both Autosub6000 and RRS James Cook are operated by the National Marine Facilities Division (NMFD) of the Natural Environment Research Council.

The NMFD is based at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton.