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 What Lies Beneath - NASA Antarctic Sub Goes Subglacial (video)

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PostSubject: What Lies Beneath - NASA Antarctic Sub Goes Subglacial (video)   Mon Mar 04, 2013 10:35 am



When researcher Alberto Behar from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., joined an international Antarctic expedition last month on a trek to investigate a subglacial lake, he brought with him a unique instrument designed and funded by NASA to help the researchers study one of the last unexplored aquatic environments on Earth.

Called the Micro-Submersible Lake Exploration Device, the instrument was a small robotic sub about the size and shape of a baseball bat. Designed to expand the range of extreme environments accessible by humans while minimally disturbing the environment, the sub was equipped with hydrological chemical sensors and a high-resolution imaging system. The instruments and cameras characterize the geology, hydrology and chemical characteristics of the sub's surroundings. Behar supervised a team of students from Arizona State University, Tempe, in designing, developing, testing and operating the first-of-its-kind sub.

"This is the first instrument ever to explore a subglacial lake outside of a borehole," Behar said. "It's able to take us places that are inaccessible by any other instruments in existence."

The sub was deployed by the U.S. team of the international Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project. The project's objective was to access subglacial Lake Whillans, located more than 2,000 feet (610 meters) below sea level, deep within West Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf, nearly 700 miles (about 1,125 kilometers) from the U.S. McMurdo Station. The 20-square-mile (50-square-kilometer) lake is totally devoid of sunlight and has a temperature of 31 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 0.5 degrees Celsius). It is part of a vast Antarctic subglacial aquatic system that covers an area about the size of the continental United States.

The WISSARD team included researchers from eight U.S. universities and two collaborating international institutions. They used specialized tools to get clean samples of subglacial lake water and sediments, survey the lake floor with video and characterize the biological, chemical and physical properties of the lake and its surroundings. Their research is designed to gain insights into subglacial biology, climate history and modern ice sheet behavior.

more here: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/earth20130228.html

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