How to recover a missing Autonomous Underwater Vehicle!


For those who are familiar with CONCUR, you may have realized that we haven’t been mentioning one major part of the expedition. Our autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV)! So, here is the story of why we have been quiet on that front.

First, let’s meet our AUV. UBC-Gavia is an autonomous underwater vehicle which is essentially a pick-up truck to carry around scientific instruments to difficult locations, such as under-ice.


UBC-Gavia ready for action.

To run a mission using UBC-Gavia, first we had to haul her out onto the ice.


Alex Forrest and Jeff Williams giving UBC-Gavia a lift across the ice.

Then an ice hole big enough for launch was cut.


Larry Kost and Alex Forrest making a nice big ice hole for UBC-Gavia to launch through.


“So that is what the it looks like under there, huh.” Team UBC-Gavia (Kelly Graves, Jeff Williams, Larry Kost and Alex Forrest) preparing the ice hole for launch.

Then, when all systems are a go, we launched.


Jeff Williams waiting to launch and hoping he wouldn’t sneeze.

We launched 3 missions and she returned for 3 times. She popped up right back in the hole each time.


UBC-Gavia making a re-appearance under the ice post-mission.

Then, on the fourth mission, she decided not to come back (we were a little insulted). We tried pulling on the tether, but nothing would give. So, we went into search mode. First, a foot search was launched on the ice. Using this method relied on the avalanche beacon, but this method had to be aborted due to poor ice conditions.

So, we tried to find her by using a hydrophone from shore. The hydrophone should have been able to pick up the pings that come from the pingers that are tucked into her communication tower.


Kelly Graves and Alex Forrest attempting to hear UBC-Gavia, unfortunately she was shy.


The hydrophone wasn’t giving us any great response from shore, so we paddled out to the ice edge and listened again.


Jeff Williams and Kelly Graves going for a leisurely paddle to listen for UBC-Gavia, to no avail.

The next day, a mission was launched to see if we could get closer to where we guesstimated she was to use the hydrophone again. So, a modified boat was pushed across the ice. But again, we didn’t pick up any sign of AUV life.


Larry Kost and Alex Forrest giving Kelly Graves and the hydrophone a lift across the lake.

Team UBC-Gavia decided to take a short break to regroup and hike the second tallest mountain in Finland, Saana. Plus, they wanted to see if they could spot UBC-Gavia from up there.


The view of Kilpisjärvi from the top of Saana and no AUV in sight.


Team UBC-Gavia (Larry Kost, Jeff Williams, Alex Forrest, and Kelly Graves) on their AUV siting hike.

It became obvious that the methods being used would not work, so it was decided that we would continue to take measurements with other instruments. We weren’t giving up on finding UBC-Gavia, but we thought that the chance of recovery would be better when the ice had melted more and the lake had more open water on it.

When we were out on the water making measurements, we were always on the lookout for UBC-Gavia’s communication tower, which is clear plastic. It is looks a lot like an ice crystal. So, it would be easy to spot on an ice-covered lake. Not!



Kelly Graves scanning the ice for the AUV.

Finally, one last attempt to visually search for UBC-Gavia in open water was launched. And lo and behold, the UBC-Gavia tether line was spotted.

So, into the boat we hopped and out onto the water we went. After 100’s of meters of line was pulled in, a gold, torpedo shape fish emerged from under the ice. UBC-Gavia was found!


UBC-Gavia finally making her appearance from under the ice.


Alex Forrest securing UBC-Gavia to the boat so that she doesn’t go missing again.

After seeing that nothing was damaged, Team UBC-Gavia was ecstatic. So, the AUV was hauled into the boat and escorted to shore.


Alex Forrest holding on to UBC-Gavia for her trip home.

Back on shore, UBC-Gavia was loaded onto her cradle and loaded into the back of the van.


UBC-Gavia and the team (Larry Kost, Jeff Williams, Alex Forrest and Kelly Graves) collapsed in the van for a rest.

UBC-Gavia’s position was unknown for 123 stressful hours, and now that she is back on shore, we can’t wait to get her back in the water running missions.

Today’s Finnish word of the blog is onnea (Bravo).

Seuraavaan kertaan! (Until next time!)

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