• Home
  • Blog
  • Icefin Robot Discovers Life on the Antarctic Sea Floor

Icefin Robot Discovers Life on the Antarctic Sea Floor

by Holly Chavez Blog

One of the most fascinating aspects of Antarctic life is the fact that scientists are constantly discovering new species. For example, recent data suggests that there is a previously undiscovered species of beaked whale in this region, and it is possible that there are several more waiting to be found.
Icefin Robot Discovers Life on the Antarctic Sea Floor

Icefin Robot Discovers Life on the Antarctic Sea Floor

One of the most fascinating aspects of Antarctic life is the fact that scientists are constantly discovering new species. For example, recent data suggests that there is a previously undiscovered species of beaked whale in this region, and it is possible that there are several more waiting to be found. Due to this, it was really exciting for a NASA funded program to turn its attention to the bottom of the Southern Ocean.

Introducing Icefin

Icefin is the name of the remotely operated vehicle (ROV)that was tasked with diving 1,640 feet into the ocean. The project’s engineers hail from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and they partnered with scientists to give Icefin capabilities that no other ROV has had. In the past, these machines were unable to dive a distance beyond a few hundred meters, but that was not nearly good enough to explore the depths of the Southern Ocean near Antarctica.

How Did Icefin Penetrate the Ice?

Icefin was deployed at Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf, but it needed some assistance to begin collecting footage. The research team made a one foot wide hole in the ice that extended down 66 feet. After this step was completed, they were able to drop the ROV into the hole they had created. From there, Icefin had to be directed to the bottom of the ocean via simultaneous localization and mapping, also known as SLAM. This was necessary because GPS is unable to work underneath such a thick sheet of ice.

What Did Icefin Find?

The conditions underneath the Ross Ice Shelf are known to be harsh, but Icefin captured evidence of a strong and thriving community of life that exists near the sea floor. This footage will help scientists learn about the adaptation skills of the local marine life, and the lessons that are learned in Antarctica could be applied to many other environments in the future. There were many types of marine life recorded by Icefin, including anemones, sponges and sea stars.  

How Did Icefin Document Life on the Sea Floor?

Icefin was equipped with eight instruments for its mission to the bottom of the Southern Ocean. The specially designed tools included up/down imaging devices and multiple sensors. Most instruments of this type are not suitable for the frigid Antarctic waters, but the engineer team was able to create tools that would not freeze or malfunction in extremely cold and wet conditions.


The principal engineer on the project, Mark West, pointed out another thing that makes Icefin stand out from other ROVs: “…it’s thin while still being able to travel where it needs to go. The vehicle has instrumentation on board for both navigation and ocean science.” Icefin was also designed and built in less than one year thanks to a cooperative effort between the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and the Georgia Tech Research Institute.  

What’s Next for Icefin?  

Icefin is slated to utilize its unique ocean exploration capabilities in the Arctic next summer, and it will also spend part of the fall documenting another portion of Antarctica. However, this is only the beginning of the plans that the people participating in this project are working on. NASA’s involvement provides a big clue, and people who are fascinated by the possibilities of space should be very excited by the most recent developments. It has been confirmed that scientists are hopeful they will eventually be able to use similar technology on Europa, which is one of the many moons of Jupiter and has ice-covered oceans that are prime for exploration. With any luck, Icefin or its successor could be the technology that finally provides evidence of alien lifeforms.


People who sign up for Antarctic expeditions will not have the ability to travel to the bottom of the Southern Ocean, but they can learn a lot about the local area by closely observing the video footage that Icefin has provided. Additionally, these naturally curious and adventurous individuals can further expand their knowledge about Antarctic marine life by keeping a close eye on the water that surrounds the expedition boat. After all, you never know what type of marine creature will decide to make an appearance. 

Love this article? Share your appreciation:

Related cruises

Antarctica
Up to 1450 USD discount

Antarctica

Classic Antarctica including Deception Island

PLA22-19. This Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands cruise delivers you into a landscape of dark rugged rock, pure white snow, and a fantastic variety of wildlife. Come say hello to whales, seals, and thousands of penguins.

m/v Plancius

m/v Plancius

Cruise date:

10 Nov - 20 Nov, 2019

Price:

7250 USD 5800 USD 1450 USD discount

North Norway, Aurora Borealis & Whales
Up to 500 USD discount

North Norway, Aurora Borealis & Whales

Explore the beauty of northern winter

RVR43-19. The North Norway cruise follows the path of more than one kind of whale as it travels amongst the fjords of Troms. The long Norway nights offer travellers on this expedition an excellent chance to take in the beauty and wonder of the Northern Lights.

s/v Rembrandt Van Rijn

s/v Rembrandt Van Rijn

Cruise date:

14 Dec - 21 Dec, 2019

Price:

2500 USD 2000 USD 500 USD discount

Weddell Sea - In search of the Emperor Penguin incl. helicopters
Up to 2000 USD discount

Weddell Sea - In search of the Emperor Penguin incl. helicopters

Searching for the Elusive Emperor Penguins

OTL22-19. A true expedition, our Weddell Sea cruise sets out to explore the range of the Emperor Penguins near Snow Hill Island. We will visit the area via helicopter and see a variety of other birds and penguins including Adélies and Gentoos.

m/v Ortelius

m/v Ortelius

Cruise date:

14 Nov - 24 Nov, 2019

Price:

11350 USD 9350 USD 2000 USD discount

North Norway, Aurora Borealis & Whales
Up to 250 USD discount

North Norway, Aurora Borealis & Whales

Explore the beauty of northern winter

RVR08-20. The North Norway cruise follows the path of more than one kind of whale as it travels amongst the fjords of Troms. The long Norway nights offer travellers on this expedition an excellent chance to take in the beauty and wonder of the Northern Lights.

s/v Rembrandt Van Rijn

s/v Rembrandt Van Rijn

Cruise date:

22 Feb - 29 Feb, 2020

Price:

2550 USD 2300 USD 250 USD discount

North Norway, Aurora Borealis, Hike & Sail
Up to 250 USD discount

North Norway, Aurora Borealis, Hike & Sail

Experience the shores, seas, and lights of the Norwegian Arctic

RVR11-20. During this trip, hikes are offered (with snowshoes if needed). Snowshoeing is easy and for anyone with good health and good physical condition. It requires no technical knowledge. With the use of snowshoes you can move faster and safer on the snow surface.

s/v Rembrandt Van Rijn

s/v Rembrandt Van Rijn

Cruise date:

14 Mar - 21 Mar, 2020

Price:

2550 USD 2300 USD 250 USD discount