In March and April 2010, an ISE Explorer Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), built for Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), was deployed to Canada's high Arctic. Its mission was to undertake under-ice bathymetric surveys in support of Canada's submission to establish the outer limits of its continental shelf under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). During this deployment several under-ice records were broken and several new technologies were demonstrated.

NRCan's AUV is an ISE Explorer class vehicle, with several innovative additions to make it suitable for arctic survey work. Most notable are a 4000 m depth rated variable ballast system, a 1500 Hz long-range homing system, and under-ice charging and data transfer capabilities. A Short-Range Localization (SRL) system was also developed for close range positioning. The homing and SRL systems were developed by Canadian defense scientists and engineers at DRDC (Defence Research and Development Canada).

The Explorer's range was extended to approximately 450 km by adding a hull section to accommodate extra batteries. The scientific payload onboard included a Seabird SBE49 Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) sensor, Knudsen singlebeam echosounder, and a Kongsberg Simrad EM2000 multibeam echosounder. In order to optimize battery endurance, the plan was to only turn on the EM2000 at strategic locations (i.e. potential sea mounts) along the mission path.

The Main Camp near Borden Island (78°14’N, 112°39’W) was the launch site for the AUV. It was launched from an 8 m by 3 m ice hole, cut through 2 – 3 m thick ice. After several test dives, the first mission was a transit to a Remote Camp, 320 km to the northwest. The AUV autonomously homed into the Remote Camp and was secured with the help of a small remotely operated vehicle (ROV). Without being removed from the water, it was charged and survey data was downloaded, all through a 1.3 m by 2 m ice hole. Subsequently, a second survey mission was undertaken in a region known as the Sever Spur (~79°N, 115°W), which returned back to the Remote Camp. Finally, it embarked on a return transit mission to the Main Camp for recovery. The AUV spent 10 days under ice before being successfully recovered. In total, close to 1000 km of under-ice survey was accomplished between the 3 missions. The AUV reached depths of 3160 m and transited at an average speed of 1.5 m/s at an altitude of 130 m above the seabed. From operating entirely under ice, to surveying in such a challenging environment, to the distances and objectives, this is an historic milestone in AUV and polar science. ISE, DRDC and NRCan are now preparing for a 2011 deployment to collect additional arctic survey data.

You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.