Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
EngineeringPostgraduate study

UAVs probing the seas for science

Underwater UAVs present exciting opportunities for science and engineering in the 21st century. However, the University of Southampton’s pioneering Autosub first started exploring the seas some 20 years ago.

Since 2001, Autosubs have brought back unique and invaluable data from deep beneath sea and glacial ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. One has travelled underwater for 40km to explore underneath the Pine Island glacier in the Amundsen Sea to the west of Chile, where ice can be up to 800 metres thick; it is an area notoriously difficult to reach by conventional means. The UAVs carry complex sensors and scientific instruments to carry out a wide range of experiments.

Autosubs are also diving to new depths. The latest Autosub can descend to 6,000 metres beneath the waves and has successfully reached the bottom of the Cayman Rise.

“We always welcome postgraduate students with innovative ideas who can bring new concepts we can incorporate into future designs,” says Professor Gwyn Griffiths from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. “We have achieved a great deal with the Autosubs but much more important work remains to be done as we investigate the causes and effects of climate change.”

Staff and students are also working on a smaller UAV that glides through the ocean carrying out experiments over an extended timeframe. It can measure temperature, salinity, pressure, chlorophyll, oxygen and turbidity in the water.

Future potential challenges include a long range journey beneath the Arctic Ocean from Svalbard to Barrow in Alaska and a crossing of the Drake Passage in the Southern Ocean to monitor the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.

Dr Ed Waugh

I took my undergraduate degree in electronics at Southampton, then studied for an Engineering Doctorate. I started off working on unmanned aircraft, using them to survey the oceans to assess the temperature of the seas and the distance between white-capped waves. I’m now developing new chemical sensors for underwater vehicles. I’ve always enjoyed working with UAVs; for me it’s a fascinating mixture of science, engineering and aeronautics.

Privacy Settings