To monitor decommissioned oil and gas fields or those nearing their end-of-life, the U.K. National Oceanography Centre (NOC) is preparing to launch autonomous robot submarines, led by the infamous Boaty McBoatface, to gather data.

As part of NOC’s Autonomous Techniques for infraStructure Ecological Assessment (AT-SEA) project, the Autosub Long Range lithium battery-powered autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Boaty McBoatface will lead a fleet of three other robotic AUVs to three decommissioning sites located in the North Sea.

Source: NOCSource: NOC

There, the autonomous robotic submarines will carry out data collection tasks typically conducted by teams aboard research ships. Instead, the autonomous submarines will photograph the seabed, mapping the seafloor, animals and structures therein to determine the long-term impact decommissioning has had on oil and gas fields' surroundings. Likewise, the robotic submarines will also measure water properties, looking at the presence of hydrocarbons, for instance, and will conduct leak detection, determining if there is a gas leak present or if one is likely to occur in the future.

Once the autonomous fleet returns with its collected data, it will be compared to data previously collected via manned research vessels.

With countless oil and gas fields nearing their end of life throughout the world's oceans, future decommissioning efforts and subsequent environmental monitoring will be necessary. Such monitoring carried out by autonomous fleets could potentially reduce the financial burden of manned research ships as well as the harmful emissions from these vessels.

Boaty McBoatface and its fleet of robotic underwater vehicles will set sail from Shetland, Scotland, in the summer of 2022.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com