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Robots to spend winter under the ice in Lake Superior

Researchers are sending robots where no scientist has gone before: under the ice in Lake Superior during winter.

This week, researchers from the University of Minnesota-Duluth put their first robot in Lake Superior to test it. Think of them as robotic divers... they travel up and down on cables and collect data. The cables will be anchored to the bottom of the lake.

Erik Brown is one of the lead researchers and the acting director of the Large Lakes Observatory at UMD.  He says the harsh winters on Lake Superior make it too dangerous for people to go out on ships and collect data.

"So the one thing we're really excited about is these over-winter measurements looking at what's happening in the upper part of the water column, over winter, under ice, times and places where the conditions have prevented anyone from making measurements before."

Brown says the robots will give researchers a much better picture of what's happening in the lake year round.

"I think we don't know what we don't know, but one of the things we know we don't know is how much biological activity there is in the upper water during the winter."

He says these kinds of robots are used in the oceans, but this will be the first time they'll be used in a freshwater system.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.