Sunfish Sea Trials

Yesterday was awesome. It was time to get Sunfish in the water for a shakedown of operations and navigation systems, so we loaded up into two PistenBullys and headed out onto the sea ice. One of the other science teams currently on station was kind enough to lend us their fish hut for the day which provided a pre-drilled hole and a great spot to practice out of the wind and -50 F temperatures. However, there was a third party making use of the hole, Weddell Seals!


You guys bring lunch?

Once we signed a treaty and agreed to share, we got Sunfish in the water and swimming as Peter familiarized himself with the controls on the xbox controller. It proved to be a great day for the team to get familiar with transporting the vehicle, getting it in and out of the water, and navigating beneath the ice. After a few modifications today and tomorrow we’ll be ready to head out to our planned field camp site and take a look under the ice shelf over the coming week. If all looks good and the underside of the ice is clear of major obstacles, we’ll keep moving forward on building out that camp and it’ll be a green light for Artemis trials in October.

The team crowded around the video feed in the fish hut with Sunfish in the water

The team crowded around the video feed in the fish hut with Sunfish in the water


Check out Peter’s Blog for more excellent photos and examples of what that live feed looks like (and a super cool jelly fish we swam past).

5 responses to “Sunfish Sea Trials

  1. I’m a Central AZ student and I find this to be quite the experience. This is amazing! To those that have been there in previous years, have you noticed any changed in the environment?


    • Looking under the ice shelf is a pretty new deal, so there aren’t very many temporally varying measurements of the same location. Additionally Antarctica’s ice shelves are constantly changing; accreting, ablation, and calving, so what was once a piece of the front of the shelf may not even be there next year. Different areas under the shelf definitely exhibit different characteristics, such as platelet ice formation and variable topography (especially near McMurdo), which suggests that the ice ocean interface is very dynamic and is responsive to environmental pressures such as currents and ocean properties. Thanks for the comment!!


  2. What an amazing experience this must have been. Something people only dream of!! What other kinds of wildlife have you seen besides the jellyfish and seal?
    Les Ross- Central Arizona College student


  3. Hi, just curious what was your biggest obstacles in the Sunfish Sea Trials? I am horrible at video games, was hard to control using the xbox controller? How awesome to get to mingle with the sea life! It definitely appears the seal is more curious of your presence then scared : )

    -Christina Olney (CentralAZ student)


    • Sunfish, at the time, was a relatively new vehicle and the engineers were still working out how to map all of the possible controls and adjusting sensitivities. A pretty steep learning curve, but with some tank testing as well they quickly figured it out.

      We also worked out a good system to share the hole with the seals too- when we took the robot out between dives they would come up for air, and then we’d do another dive.


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