Boaty McBoatface is back, and doing important climate change research

June 30, 2017 3:09 pm Last Updated: June 30, 2017 3:09 pm


This week, an automated subaquatic vehicle returned from an expedition into the antarctic, bringing with it unprecedented data

That sub’s name?

Boaty McBoatface.

“Fresh from its maiden voyage, Boaty is already delivering new insight into some of the coldest ocean waters on Earth, giving scientists a greater understanding of changes in the Antarctic region and shaping a global effort to tackle climate change,” praised U.K. Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson.

It’s just another chapter in the epic saga of Boaty McBoatface, who has made an improbable journey from joke to online sensation to hero of science.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the tale of Boaty McBoatface, let us recap from the beginning:

Last March, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the U.K.’s largest environmental research council, announced a new, highly advanced polar research vessel.

And, rather idealistically, they turned to the internet to give it a name via an online poll.

At the time, NERC said they were “looking for an inspirational name that exemplifies the work it will do. The ship could be named after a local historical figure, movement, or landmark – or a famous polar explorer or scientist,” suggesting names like Shackleton, Endeavour, and Falcon.

But these British scientists were clearly out of touch with how the internet operates, because a clear favorite quickly emerged in the contest: the hilariously stupid name “Boaty McBoatface.”

But as funny as it would have been to see a $260 million, state-of-the-art research vessel forever be referred to as Boaty McBoatface, the name was rejected, in a blatant affront to the very principles of democracy.

NERC went with the normal, respectable name of the RRS Sir David Attenborough (which came in fourth). But, as a consolation to the fans, they did name the mothership’s autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Boaty McBoatface, which doesn’t technically make sense because it isn’t a boat, but it’s better than nothing.

But now, Boaty is showing us what he’s made of.

The jokey title may have been relegated to the smaller vessel, but it’s still doing crucial work. The Autosub Long Range (ALR) class robotic sub just returned from its first major mission — and delivered big time with unprecedented research data, according to the British Antarctic Survey.

Everyone's favourite yellow submarine Boaty McBoatface returns home with unprecedented dataResearchers have captured…

Posted by British Antarctic Survey on Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Boaty’s voyage was part of an ongoing project by the British Antarctic Survey to study the flow of Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) through the Orkney Passage, away from Antarctica and to the Atlantic Ocean, which plays an important role in regulating the Earth’s climate.

It is believed that the AABW has been warming over the past three decades, possibly due to changing wind conditions, as the study has set out to determine.

The BBC points out that this could have “a number of important implications,” particularly on rising sea levels.

Boaty’s job is to “move back and forth in an AABW along the Orkney Passage while measuring the intensity of the turbulence.”

You can see an animated video simulation of Boaty’s mission below:

The use of Boaty McBoatface helped the scientists fill in gaps in their research. Previous studies had measured from a fixed point, limiting the scope of their data.

“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,” said professor Alberto Naveira Garabato, the lead scientist on the project.

So any voters who may have been disappointed that they didn’t name the official ship Boaty McBoatface, rejoice: Boaty is still out there, being awesome.

Really, it’s a true story of redemption. They said Boaty McBoatface was an undignified name for a research ship. And yet, here’s a sub bearing the name, out there doing groundbreaking research.

So maybe anything is possible, no matter how dumb your name is.