Who takes the blame if the vehicle is lost?
The APOGEE (Autonomous Polar Geophysical Explorer) project is a joint
effort between the Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution, the Lamont
Doherty Earth Observatory, and the
Bluefin Robotics Corporation. Initial funding to develop and test
a prototype vehicle has been obtained from the
National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs.
The principal investigators for the APOGEE project are
Rob Sohn and
Hanumant Singh at the Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution, and Spahr Webb at the
Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. The AUV technology behind our
effort was developed by the
Bluefin Robotics Company, largely with funding from the
Office of Naval Research. Bluefin Robotics is a spin-off company
from the Ocean Engineering Department
of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
is the point of contact for APOGEE, and you can email him at
firstname.lastname@example.org, or call him at (508) 289-3616.
Why ask why? A Historical perspective on Arctic research
"...notwithstanding I can greatly commend those valiant minds that
doe attempt such voyages, and the rather when they doe it for knowledge
sake, and profit all their countrie, and not altogether for private
gaine and lucre."
Thomas Blundeville, 1613, Of Arctic voyages (from the comfort of a
Of all the world's oceans, the Arctic has been the most reluctant
to divulge her secrets. Positioned at the top of the world and covered
with a permanent layer of ice, the Arctic Ocean remains largely unexplored
and poorly understood, even in the face of 20th century technology.
In 1889 Captain Otto Sverdrup sailed the Fram into the East Siberian
Sea, and let it freeze into the pack ice northeast of the New Siberian
Islands. Over the next three years the Fram drifted in the transpolar
current and became the first scientific station to drift across the
Arctic Ocean. During this expedition bathymetric soundings in excess
of 3000 meters were recorded, and the existence of a deep ocean basin
beneath the ice cap was discovered.
Since that time a multitude of international expeditions and scientific
programs have been carried out to map the Arctic Basin and to unravel its
tectonic history. The extreme logistical difficulty associated with Arctic
investigations, however, has severely curtailed the quality and amount of
data collected. On the basis of fairly sparse data the major geologic features
of the Basin have been delineated, but their relation to one another, and
the evolution of the Basin as a whole, remains largely unknown.
In this regard the APOGEE
project is simply one of the more recent attempts to penetrate and explore
the ice-covered Arctic Basin. Our approach is to use Autonomous Underwater
Vehicle (AUV) technology to get beneath the ice and to make scientific
observations. The idea of getting beneath the ice to avoid many of the
obstacles to Arctic Ocean navigation is not new. In 1648 Bishop John
Wilkins of England proposed that "voyages to the polar regions by submarine
vessels would be safe from the uncertainty of tides, the violence of
tempests, and from ice and great frosts."
Wilkins was apparently a man of great vision, but little good it did
him personally since submarine technology didn't mature until some 300
years later. Submarines have in fact proven to be tremendously useful
for exploring and mapping the Arctic Basin, though much of the data
acquired by the military remains classified. The Navy and the National
Science Foundation teamed up from 1995-1999 with the
SCICEX program to use the nuclear submarine USS Hawkbill for scientific
investigations in the Arctic. A variety of fascinating observations
were made, but the cost of operating nuclear submarines is essentially
beyond the financial means allocated for civilian polar research, and
this has put further plans on ice (sic).
AUVs are much less expensive to operate than nuclear submarines. You
don't need a nuclear reactor, for one thing, nor do you need to accommodate
a sub full of hungry sailors. They're also much less expensive to build
(a gross understatement), so all in all they have the potential to provide
an extremely cost effective means of making scientific observations
beneath the ice cap. We're hoping that our development effort will allow
us to contribute to Arctic Basin exploration and investigation in a
significant way, and at a price that is consistent with civilian polar
For practical aspects of why it is so important to extend our experimental
presence into the Arctic, you can check out the WHOI Arctic