Another Missing Submersible: Mysterious Disappearance of $3.6 Million Vessel Near The “Doomsday Glacier”

Source: NASA

A specialized submersible vanished during a climate change research mission in Antarctica. The uncrewed vehicle was mapping the underside of the Thwaites Glacier when it disappeared without a trace.

What Went Missing Under the Ice?

The University of Gothenburg’s Ran submarine went missing after diving under the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, also known as the “Doomsday Glacier” due to its potential to cause rapid sea level rise. The 23-foot-long autonomous craft cost $3.6 million and was custom-built to withstand polar expeditions.

Source: University of Gothenburg

The Sweden-based university reported Ran’s disappearance after extensive but unsuccessful rescue efforts. The battery-powered vessel was programmed to resurface at a set location, but it never returned. With all search operations called off, the specially designed research submarine is likely lost forever under the ice.

What Was Ran’s Important Mission?

Ran was deployed to collect imaging and data about the underside of the melting Thwaites Glacier. As the widest glacier on Earth, spanning 80 miles across, Thwaites is responsible for approximately 4% of the current global sea level rise. Understanding its melting activity is crucial for projections of future ocean water increases.

Source: University of Gothenburg

The one-of-a-kind submarine used cutting-edge technology to dive deeper than traditional underwater drones. It was specially crafted to withstand polar expeditions and could navigate autonomously with pre-set routes. Tragically, Ran’s ability to capture rare close-up footage under the glacier provided vital intel for climate scientists around the world.

How Did Search Efforts Unfold?

After Ran missed its scheduled resurface time, the research team utilized all resources to find the missing craft. Acoustic search equipment, helicopters, and drones systematically combed the last known location under the Thwaites Glacier. Unfortunately, the dead battery means Ran likely cannot transmit a locational signal.

Source: University of Gothenburg

Despite advanced search technology, experts compare locating the small submersible to finding a needle in a haystack without knowing the haystack’s location. Ran has officially been declared lost by the University. All rescue operations have ended as the chartered Korean vessel assisting in the effort has departed Antarctica’s icy waters.

What Made Ran So Unique?

Unlike most underwater drones, Ran navigated the pitch-black waters under glaciers completely solo thanks to an autonomous navigation system. With pre-set routes programmed by pilots, the custom-built sub provided its lighting and maneuvering to capture rare images.

Source: Twitter(X)/Saturnax1

Data collected by the specially designed adventurer was considered invaluable by researchers across the globe. The cutting-edge submersible could reach challenging depths other vessels cannot safely access, providing elite climate insights. Ran’s disappearance leaves scientists without this one-of-a-kind exploration unit.

How Does This Loss Impact Research?

Losing Ran deals a devastating blow to climate change research focused on sea level rise threats. The rare images and data gathered by the custom submersible allowed accelerated projections of glacier melting impacts. Its ability to capture up-close under-ice activity remains unmatched in the field.

Source: Twitter(X)/Saturnax1

Data gathered by Ran during its 2019 maiden voyage under Thwaites represented groundbreaking discoveries for the research community. At approximately $3.6 million to construct, replacing the autonomous sub presents a major financial challenge for the University of Gothenburg as well.

What’s Next for the Doomsday Glacier?

Even with Ran lost beneath the waves, the University aims to continue similar research initiatives at Thwaites Glacier. Collecting additional data to model sea level changes remains a priority in the climate science community. However, funding a new multi-million dollar submersible could delay future expeditions.

Source: NASA

Unfortunately for researchers, Ran transmitted its last signals from underneath the massive Antarctic glacier in early 2023. With the custom craft now declared missing, replacing this specialized vehicle will be both costly and time-intensive. Still, scientists agree learning more about rapidly melting Thwaites could protect coastal communities from rising tides.

Could Ran Be Recovered in the Future?

Expert opinions cast serious doubt that Ran will ever be retrieved from underneath the remote Antarctic ice sheet. Without a last known location or working recovery beacon, locating such a small vessel in the deep icy waters is essentially impossible based on current technologies.

Source: NASA

Even on the slim chance its resting place is pinpointed someday, the extreme Arctic conditions and inaccessible terrain pose monumental challenges. For now, the privately funded University can only hope future innovations may someday facilitate Ran’s rescue. However, for the doomed “Doomsday Glacier” research mission, this submarine’s fate seems sealed.

What Mechanisms Caused Ran’s Demise?

It remains unclear exactly what sequence of events led to Ran’s catastrophic mission failure under Thwaites Glacier. Researchers assume the rugged polar conditions probably damaged or entrapped the submarine. Without definitive answers, speculations abound regarding the $3.6 million vessel’s watery ruin.

Source: Wikimedia/NASA/Christy Hansen

Expert theories include unseen terrain blocking its programmed path, a disastrous equipment malfunction, or even a dangerous creature attack. But with no confirmable reason for Ran missing its pickup, the University can only guess what destroyed their prized planetary protector thousands of feet beneath Antarctica’s icy veil. The truth behind this strange uncrewed submarine’s sudden vanishing may never surface.

Could This Loss Spur Innovation?

Losing state-of-the-art technology worth millions always hurts any scientific field. However, sometimes these losses become the catalyst needed to spark new generations of innovation and invention. With climate threats mounting, replacing and improving upon Ran’s under-ice exploration capacities is now an international priority.

Source: Wikimedia/Urcomunicacion

In response to the catastrophic failure of Ran’s critical glacier monitoring initiatives, renewed global support for fast-tracking cutting-edge replacements offers optimism. Tapping collaborative brainpower can birth even more advanced and resilient systems to continue the urgent work of tracking sea-level rise sources. From tragedy arises phoenix-like progress if humanity rallies around this shared priority. Perhaps Ran’s demise may thus propel rapid refinements benefitting its entire high-tech tribe of successors.

How Can We Aid Future Expeditions?

Ran’s disappearance delivers difficulties and setbacks, not defeat, for climate research teams tackling Earth’s most urgent environmental issue – sea level rise. With coastal communities under threat, obtaining additional data on Antarctica’s immense Thwaites “Doomsday Glacier” melting remains imperative. Supporting the creation of the next-generation vehicles to pick up where Ran left off protects tomorrow.

Source: Wikimedia/ROK Ministry of National Defense

Contacting elected representatives to advocate for grant funding channels and writing to key university officials are simple ways to empower researchers. We all share responsibility for ensuring the rapid development of replacement technologies with enhanced durability for the planet’s iciest environments. Doing so honors missing subs like Ran – and quite literally aids in mankind’s voyage towards safer shores.

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Matty Jacobson

Written by Matty Jacobson

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