"All we know is that something unexpected happened under the ice."
Lost at Sea
New year, new missing submersible — and although this one doesn't have anyone on it, its loss is still a big deal.
In a press release, Sweden's University of Gothenburg conceded that its robotic submersible, named "Ran" after the Norse goddess of the sea, has gone AWOL during its sophomore voyage underneath Thwaite's Glacier in Antarctica — often referred to as the "Doomsday Glacier" because scientists fear that if it melts entirely, it could cause a devastating rise in sea levels.
Ran's maiden journey under Thwaite's was the first time anything had traversed underneath the glacier, performing essential measurements about the melting ice cap that told scientists in greater detail than ever before what's happening to it.
But at the tail end of its second mission under the ice, it ran into trouble. As the school's statement explains, Ran is sent down and brought up repeatedly because it can't communicate with its human operators under all that ice. Instead, it makes a pre-programming route and, when working properly, meets its humans back at a set rendezvous point.
Instead of heading back to Sweden as planned, the personnel aboard South Korea's Araon icebreaker ship began searching for the orange-colored submersible, using acoustic search equipment, drones, and even helicopters to try to find it.
"In the end," the statement reads, "it was just a matter of realizing that Ran had been lost."
Much like the Titan submersible before it, Ran's chances of being found grow slimmer the longer it's lost — though in that case, parts of the vehicle, and even some human remains, were eventually recovered.
"It’s a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack, but without even knowing where the haystack is," marine scientist Anna Wåhlin, one of the UG scientists working on the submersible's team, said in the press release. "At this point, Ran’s batteries are dead. All we know is that something unexpected happened under the ice."
As Wåhlin posits, there's a chance that something has prevented Ran from "getting out" from under the ice, and the team acknowledges that it could spell a "likely end" for the sub.
Despite the loss, the university is looking ahead toward replacing Ran, and is currently in search of a financier. Hopefully they'll get a new submersible back under the ice and take measurements as Thwaite's keeps melting — before it's too late.
More on glaciers: Huge Iceberg Falling Apart as It Drifts Away From Antarctica
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