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Anna Wåhlin with Universitety of Gothenburg's AUV "Ran".
Anna Wåhlin receives SEK 50 million kronor for her research beneath West Antarctic ice shelves. The only way to observe the processes beneath the glaciers is with autonomous underwater vehicles – AUVs – equipped with customised artificial intelligence.
Photo: Johan Wingborg
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Anna Wåhlin receives 50 million SEK for research beneath Antarctic ice shelves

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Anna Wåhlin has been awarded the Distinguished Professor Grant by the Swedish Research Council for her research in ocean processes beneath West Antarctica’s floating ice shelves.
“Now, I can do everything I always dreamed of! I'm still a bit in shock," says Anna Wåhlin.

The goal of Anna Wåhlin's project is to carry out previously impossible observations beneath two of the fastest melting glaciers in West Antarctica: Thwaites and Getz.

These key areas are largely unexplored since they are difficult to access, and the only way to observe the processes beneath the glaciers is with autonomous underwater vehicles – AUVs – equipped with customised artificial intelligence that can both overcome unforeseen obstacles, and handle long missions without contact with surface vessels.

The AUV will navigate West Antarctic ice cavities

“We will use an AUV with the capacity to navigate into the West Antarctic ice cavities. There, the AUV will map the oceanfloor; the ice thickness and structure; and occurrence of meltwater channels beneath the Thwaites and Getz glaciers,” says Anna Wåhlin, , professor in oceanography at the Department of Marine Sciences, University of Gothenburg.

Based on the new data sets, Anna Wåhlin will develop research about the ocean processes that deliver heat to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. These will be supplemented by moorings on the ocean floor that measure ocean currents over time. The data sets will be interpreted based on theoretical bounds for heat flux into the ice shelf cavities, developed in parallel.

Perform extensive beforehand tests from R/V Skagerak

“It’s very rewarding that the Swedish Research Council dares to make such a long-term investment in such an unusual and high-risk research area. It’s great to be able to make long-term plans, and to be able to build a research group around these issues,” says Anna Wåhlin.

“I’m also happy that the University of Gothenburg has a brand new and state-of-the-art research vessel – R/V Skagerak – because we need to perform extensive beforehand tests of the AUV before we deploy it into Antarctic waters. Expeditions to the Antarctica are huge investments, and it’s important to perform as many tests as possible at home, in safer waters, and closer to land. R/V Skagerak is perfect for this,” says Anna Wåhlin.

Text: Annika Wall

Facts Distinguished Professor Grant

Anna Wåhlin is one of three researchers awarded the Distinguished Professor Grant within natural and engineering sciences 2021. The grant period is 10 years, starting in January 2022. Grant amount is 5 000 000 SEK per year, which makes a total of 50 000 000 SEK.

Anna Wåhlin receives the grant for her study “Development of methods to study the Antarctica’s floating glaciers with new infrastructure”. (Translation from Swedish.)

The aim of the distinguished professor programme is to create conditions for the most prominent researchers to conduct long-term, ground-breaking research with great potential for achieving scientific breakthroughs. The grant shall also enable the establishment and build-up of a major research environment of the highest quality around a leading researcher.