Why This Moon Pool Is So Important For Scientific Research

Inside the Australian icebreaker ship known as RSV Nuyina is a feature called a moon pool. A moon pool is what you might imagine would be a seafarer's nightmare, as it's basically a giant hole in the hull of a ship. According to Australian government officials, RSV Nuyina's moon pool is over 40 feet deep and runs all the way from the ship's science deck to the frigid open sea below. While it might appear like a fancy underwater Jacuzzi, its main purpose isn't for leisure, but as a sort of doorway to the underwater world.

Upon opening its top and bottom hatches, this moon pool is able to act as a portal for transport of various scientific instrumentation and submersibles straight into the deep from within the ship itself. This sidesteps the need for exiting the environment-controlled interior of the ship, preventing exposure to external elements and inclement weather. Although moon pools can be nifty in-ship facilities on their own, the way in which the RSV Nuyina utilizes theirs is even more important.

A moon pool that leads to the great unknown

What sets the RSV Nuyina apart from typical luxury liners is that it isn't made for just cruising. It's designed specifically to pierce thick ice. This icebreaker can wade through tough Antarctic glaciers like it's gliding in calm waters. The ship's ability to penetrate ice allows it to explore uncharted territory, making its moon pool handy for investigating the unknown abyss. While the RSV Nuyina's moon pool might make arctic deep observation look easy, the process wasn't exactly as convenient in the past.

In 2013, NASA's WISSARD mission involved sending specialized equipment deep into a subglacial lake for scientific research. A YouTube video of the expedition highlights the tedious process of hauling various equipment over the icy surface before drilling a borehole into the ground in order to insert NASA's micro-sub. The RSV Nuyina and its moon pool circumvents that dilemma by providing a direct passage, as well as a safe and controlled environment for its equipment to operate in.

What do moon pools mean for science?

Scientists are hoping that the RSV Nuyina's access to otherwise inaccessible territory could deliver access to insight into climate change as well. Data gathered by conductivity, temperature, and depth instruments (CDTs) that are deployed through the RSV Nuyina's moon pool could aid in collecting data that would in turn lead to avoiding potentially disastrous extreme global climate change. Since Antarctica's icy depths remain largely unexplored, delving into its glaciers and analyzing its frosty waters has the potential to yield crucial information previously unknown to researchers. 

In an interview with CNET, data center manager Jonathan Kool even played with the notion that soon, scientists from all over the world will be able to analyze Nuyina's collective data in real-time without having to be on the ship. Given enough time, the icebreaker — along with its handy moon pool — might just be able to venture deeper into unseen Antarctic depths for longer periods, possibly garnering vital, life-changing data in the process.