A University of Nebraska-Lincoln team's mission to build a robot to advance research into the ecosystem under Antarctic ice may also eventually help NASA study one of Jupiter's moons.
The robot, known as Deep-SCINI (Submersible Capable of under Ice Navigation and Imaging), is designed to run deeper than previous missions under the leading edge of the Antarctic ice shelf.
The remotely operated underwater vehicle will be used for biological and oceanographic examinations near the grounding zone of the Ross Ice Shelf, an area where the ice shelf that is floating on ocean water (to the north) transitions to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet that is in contact with the underlying earth (to the south).
Deep-SCINI can be used to explore other areas within the ice shelf cavity beyond the scope of the existing project. It may also assist with proposed drilling activities for the multinational Antarctic Geologic Drilling program based at UNL.
The project builds on successes of the first SCINI vehicle, which was used to discover a new species of sea anemone that lives in burrows in the underside of Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf. The International Institute for Species Exploration named the anemone among the top 10 species discovered in 2013.
For Deep-SCINI, UNL is building a vehicle that can handle a depth of 6,500 feet, or about two kilometers, said Bob Zook, the project's chief engineer. The original SCINI vehicle was built to operate at about 300 meters. "By going deeper, we will be able to determine what kind of organisms live at these greater depths and distance from the ice shelf edge."