The UK’s National Oceanography Centre will be using Boaty McBoatfasce, a long-range, autonomous underwater vehicle, to conduct surveys of aging underwater oil and gas fields next year.
The NOC will be working on the Autonomous Techniques for infraStructure Ecological Assessment (AT-SEA) project, to test the concept of using submarines like Boaty for high-tech, low-impact monitoring to pick up potential environmental impacts at these sites.
The National Environmental Research Council has granted £670,000/~US$915,951/~776,436 Euros in funding as part of an “Influence of Man-made Structures in the Ecosystem (INSITE)” research program. The project team will use the money to carry out the first robotic mission in summer 2022. The effort will test whether underwater robots can gather equivalent information to what surface research ships can do.
According to AT-SEA project lead Dr. Daniel Jones from the National Oceanography Centre:
“There are currently thousands of oil and gas industry structures in the sea that are approaching the end of their lives – in UK waters alone there are nearly 500. As part of decommissioning, they typically need to be removed and the environment returned to a safe state. To ensure that no harmful effects will occur to the marine environment, decommissioning operations need to be supported by an environmental assessment and subsequent monitoring.
“Environmental surveys may be required over many years after decommissioning, especially if some structures are left in place. Surveys that are needed in an offshore environment are expensive and time-consuming, requiring support from ships and many specialist seagoing personnel. This requirement, although vital, has a considerable cost for industry and the public.”
In March 2016, the National Environmental Research Council launched a public campaign to name the UK’s next polar research ship, and “Boaty McBoatface” became an internet phenomenon. While the vessel was eventually named after famed environmentalist Sir David Attenborough, one of the National Oceanography Centre’s long-range AUVs was named Boaty McBoatface.
Boaty can dive as deep as 6,000m/19,685ft and has a range of 2,000km/1,243 miles. Check out a video of the cheeky little sub below.