Water Baby

Water Baby

What's making the antarctic melt? We've put robots into the ocean to unlock the complexities of warm water.

A thousand metres below the surface of the Southern Ocean a fleet of robots silently glides, measuring the effects of wind, sun and rain on our seas.

Occasionally a SeaGlider surfaces to beam its raw data back to scientists more than 10,000 miles away at UEA, who are trying to understand how our oceans are changing.

Professor Karen Heywood has been using the underwater robots to show how warm water is making its way towards the Antarctic ice sheets, causing them to melt. The robots help to build up a picture of underwater conditions by collecting data on water salinity, temperature, and oxygen levels.

The polar oceans are one of the least understood environments on our planet but are arguably the most important part of the global climate system since they are the most sensitive to climate change.

Fundamental marine processes - such as waves, eddies, and the interaction of sea, atmosphere and ice - determine the variability of our climate around the world.

The discovery mission to the Southern Ocean off Antarctica, one of the most remote and inaccessible oceans of the world, revealed that swirling ocean eddies transport layers of warm water towards the coast of Antarctica.

The warm water is rapidly melting ice sheets on the coast of West Antarctica, contributing to rising ocean levels worldwide.

The use of ocean gliders is beginning to revolutionise our understanding of polar ocean processes. Heywood’s research will help scientists predict the rate the ice sheets will melt and how quickly global sea levels will rise as a result.

Professor Heywood has been awarded this year’s Challenger Medal of the Challenger Society for Marine Science in recognition of her major contribution to physical oceanography in the UK and worldwide - it's a huge achievement that demonstrates the impact this work has had on the wider scientific community.

The Society for Underwater Technology has also awarded Professor Heywood their 2015 Oceanography Award citing her 'major and outstanding contribution' to the field.

The Expert

Professor Karen Heywood

Professor of Physical Oceanography
School of Environmental Sciences
I undertake research into physical processes in the marine environment, looking at ocean circulation, its role in climate, and the interactions between atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere.