Under Polar Ice, What is the Ocean Like? Ask a Robotics Engineer!

Photo property of the Antarctic Support Contract (ASC).

On Friday, January 15th, 110 students, parents and teachers convened at BIOS to place a call to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, as part of the 2016 MARINE program. Engineer and explorer Bob Zook was on the other end of the line to share how his work with Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) helps scientists to explore greater depths and remote regions of the world, like the dynamic Antarctic ecosystems hidden beneath thick sea ice.

Catching a glimpse of the ecosystem below the sea ice ordinarily requires heavy equipment and days of work to drill or melt a big hole through the ice, so divers can explore what lies below. But divers are limited by the amount of time they can spend underwater and can’t venture too far from the hole. In contrast, Zook’s Submersible Capable of Under Ice Navigation and Imaging (SCINI) can slip through a small hole in the ice to quickly collect a range of data for scientists. 

The middle school students, who are in the process of designing and building their own ROVs for the 2016 ROV Angelfish Challenge, were able to ask Zook questions about both his inventions and experiences in the field.

The ROV Challenge through the MARINE program incorporates Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM topics) into underwater missions such as documenting oil spills, connecting satellite communications, or creating artificial coral reefs. Come cheer on the student teams as they maneuver their own ROVs at this year’s challenge, which will be held at the National Sports Center on April 30th, 2016.