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Boaty McBoatface returns from maiden voyage with "unprecedented data"

Boaty McBoatface's first voyage

A British polar research vessel that captured online attention in 2016 has completed its first voyage, returning to the U.K. after collecting "unprecedented data" in some of the coldest waters on Earth.

Boaty McBoatface, an unmanned submersible, was deployed to explore the Orkney Passage, a deep region of the ocean about 500 miles from the Antarctic Peninsula, according to the University of Southampton. It encountered waters colder than 0 degrees Celsius and currents of up to 1 knot.

The vessel's unusual name came about after the U.K.'s Natural Environment Research Council conducted an online poll to name the country's new $284 million polar research ship in 2016. "Boaty McBoatface" won the naming contest by a wide margin, attracting 124,000 votes. The council eventually decided to name the ship after Sir David Attenborough, dubbing a new unmanned submersible "Boaty McBoatface" instead.

Boaty McBoatface, an unmanned submersible used to study ocean waters in the Antarctic. British Antarctic Survey

Researchers from the University of Southampton on board the RRS James Clark Ross put Boaty McBoatface to work for the first time during a seven-week mission to the Antarctic. The researchers said "the vessel captured data on temperature, speed of water flow and underwater turbulence rates" in the Orkney Passage, a 4,000-meter-deep area of the ocean where cold, dense water from Antarctica travels north to the Atlantic.

Researchers have begun analyzing the data and released a visualization of the mission on Wednesday.

Boaty McBoatface M44 in Orkney Passage by Eleanor Frajka-Williams on Vimeo

Boaty McBoatface completed three trips on the mission, the longest lasting three days, researchers said. The goal was to collect data for use in understanding water flows and climate change in waters inaccessible to manned vessels.

"We have been able to collect massive amounts of data that we have never been able to capture before due to the way Boaty (Autosub Long Range) is able to move underwater," lead scientist Alberto Naveira Garabato said. "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 university said that the mission was not all smooth sailing, however. On one dive, Boaty McBoatface ran into a dense group of krill that forced it to return to the surface.

"However, the upside was that we did see lots of whales near the ship!" oceanographer Povl Abrahamsen said. 

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