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Boaty McBoatface returns from its inaugural mission

The most famous little submarine in the world has returned from a 110-mile-plus journey, bringing back heaps of ocean temperature data from the Antarctic.


Boaty McBoatface, the autonomous submarine, is winched prior to the keel-laying ceremony of the new polar research ship, RRS Sir David Attenborough.

Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Boaty McBoatface, the data-gathering unmanned submarine made famous by its public naming contest last year, has returned, according to the University of Southamton.

Sent on its first set of three missions back in May, Boaty traveled more than 110 miles (180 km), reaching depths of 13,100 feet (4,000 meters) during the course of its seven-week trip through the Orkney Passage. The mission took Boaty to the Weddell Sea about 500 miles (800 km) from the Antarctic Peninsula. It used onboard instruments to measure things like water temperature, turbulence data and water flow rates to try to understand how ocean currents affect climate change.

The Orkney passage was specifically chosen for the mission because it acts as a "choke point" where deep sea currents pass through from Antarctica's Weddell Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. Scientists worry that changing wind temperatures over the Southern Ocean are warming the ocean water layers, changing the dynamics of deep sea currents.

Researchers created an animation to show the path Boaty would take on its mission:

With Boaty back on the Sir David Attenborough in Britain, scientists from the National Oceanography Center, Southampton University and the British Antarctic Survey will be able to sift through the data to map ocean currents and how they affect the world's climate.

"We have been able to collect massive amounts of data that we have never been able to capture before due to the way Boaty ... is able to move underwater," Alberto Naveira Garabatom, a scientist from the University of Southampton, said in a statement. "Up until now we have only been able to take measurements from a fixed point, but now, we are able to obtain a much more detailed picture of what is happening in this very important underwater landscape. The challenge for us now, is to analyze it all."

For those who don't remember, the submarine got its unique name from a public naming contest for the UK's newest polar research ship that went viral on social networks. The ever-cheeky public voted for Boaty McBoatface by a wide margin, but the British government, thinking the name not serious enough for its latest vessel, decided to name it after naturalist Sir David Attenborough. As a concession, it named the tiny autonomous yellow submarine Boaty McBoatface instead.

Even with its silly name, Boaty's first mission was deemed a huge success, giving scientists new data that might lead to more insight about climate change.

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