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Robotics Power The Military

Robots To Clear the Baltic Seafloor of WW-II Mines 286

An anonymous reader writes "A Russian company is building a massive natural gas pipeline that will run across the Baltic Sea floor. But first, they must clear some of the 150,000 unexploded bombs sitting at the bottom of the sea, left there by the Russian and German armies in the 1940s. About 70 of these mines, each filled with 300 kg of explosive charge, sit in the pipeline's path, mostly in its northern section just south of Finland. And so the company contracted to remove the mines is bringing in robots to do the dirty work. Here's how it will work: A research ship deploys the robot to the seabed, where it identifies the exact location of the explosive. After sounding a warning to surrounding ship traffic, scaring fish away using a small explosive, and then emitting a 'seal screamer' of high intensity noises designed to make the area around the blast quite uncomfortable for marine mammals, Bactec's engineers erupt a 5 kg blast, forcing the mine to detonate. This process ensures the safety of humans plus any animals living in the surrounding environment. The operation concludes with the robot being redeployed to clear up the scrap of the now-destroyed bomb."
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Robots To Clear the Baltic Seafloor of WW-II Mines

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  • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @04:43PM (#31159868) Homepage
    They get blown up. That kinda tends to happen when you put bombs in the water.
  • by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @04:45PM (#31159896)

    What about the plants?

        They'll grow back.

  • Re:DISCRIMINATION! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @04:46PM (#31159906)

    So you are volunteering?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @04:46PM (#31159910)

    So... what? Blow up the fish and the marine mammals, too, in the interest of fairness?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @04:47PM (#31159936)

    Plants in Baltic sea??? Oh came on it is most polluted ocean in the World.

  • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @04:48PM (#31159942) Homepage
    Uh.... If the mines don't explode when you blow up 5kg of TNT (or equivalent) right next to them, what exactly is the problem?
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @04:49PM (#31159970) Journal
    I suspect the dud rate will be pretty high. Trouble is, though, that when a single active mine could ruin your entire day, a chunk of your staff, and probably some expensive submersible hardware, you pretty much have to check.
  • by Zebai ( 979227 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @04:51PM (#31160000)

    I can't believe they have opposition from ENVIRONMENTALISTS! Of all people, they should be the first to encourage the removal of mines. Frankly I would like to see all 150,000 removed, we have enough mines in our world we don't need them in the ocean as well.

    Any pollution from the remains of these mines would only be temporary, the sea claims all things in the end and it will eventually filter out/destroy toxins on its own once its in flow is stopped. If its already heavily polluted they should focus their efforts on whatever is causing it before this.

  • by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @04:57PM (#31160084) Journal

    Life isn't fair.

    Seriously, what else are they going to do? If they try to reclaim the bombs and blow them up at another location, the project just got massively more complex, they are going to still damage the surrounding area when they dig it up and drag it away, the stuff that breaks if one goes off in-place just got a lot more expensive, you have the risk of someone getting hurt or killed during transport, and they've still got to blow it up somewhere. Some life forms are going to be extinguished when the bomb goes off, and no one in their right mind is going to design something to try and keep the bomb from going off. Unexploded ordinance is just nasty stuff that may or may not still be viable - the only effective way to make it safe is to let all the boom out of it.

    They try to scare off all the critters they can, then they blow up the mine. It's as cheap, efficient, and about as minimally invasive as such a project could be. That's not to say it's not invasive, only that (short of transporter technology where we can beam it all into space) it's about as good as we're going to get.

  • by zero_out ( 1705074 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @05:01PM (#31160150)

    Never underestimate the idiocy of a subset of the human population. There are plenty of sane, rational environmentalists out there, but then there's PETA. An animatronic groundhog? Protesting the Westminster dog show? Those animals have better lives than I do, and mine is pretty good.

    There will always be someone, somewhere, ready to protest anything.

  • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @05:14PM (#31160342) Homepage Journal

    Are you suggesting that the mines not be placed where they are? Very well. I'll call a meeting with Hitler and Stalin and see if we can get this un-done.

  • by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @05:22PM (#31160420) Journal

    Coral reef ends at about 40 meters or so. I don't think anywhere on the Baltic Sea floor would qualify as prime coral reef territory for a large number of reasons, but depth is the first and most immediate that comes to mind.

    And let's think about this for a second. They are doing the "boom-boom" thing to eliminate the bombs to make room for a natural gas pipeline. You might as well complain that the local contractor is using a weed-whacker to clear pretty flowers before he starts leveling the ground with a bulldozer. The amount of damage caused by these bombs going off is nothing compared to what's going to happen when the pipeline goes in.

    And if you skip the mine-clearing step, just wait till the first mine goes off and releases a few million gallons of natural gas into the surrounding environment.

  • by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @05:27PM (#31160480) Journal

    The whole point of setting off a bomb next to a bigger bomb is to ensure that any viable explosives will go off.

    Large boom = the original bomb was a danger and the danger is gone.
    Small boom = the original bomb had no viable explosive left so was never a danger in the first place.

    Determining which are currently dead and which are still live is tricky. The cheapest, fastest, and safest way is to just blow them all up.

  • by maillemaker ( 924053 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @05:34PM (#31160568)

    >Was mining the sea a shortsighted endeavor that ultimately caused more harm than what was being prevented (invasion)?

    Mines were, and continue to be, cheap and effective area denial weapons.

    When used at sea, they ensnare the unwary, and, once the position of the minefield becomes known to your enemy, diverts enemy traffic into places more convenient for you.

    This has been sufficient justification for their use for about a hundred years or so.

  • by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @05:41PM (#31160642) Journal

    I'm no munitions expert, but if I were to design a mine that was going to go into saltwater I might also select a material that is somewhat resistant to saltwater. PVC, polystyrene, bakelite, teflon, and polyurethane come to mind, and all were around before WWII. Heck, even stainless steel was around, albeit probably too expensive for the Russian military at the time. I wouldn't necessarily expect it to last 60 years, but if I designed it to be even minimally saltwater-resistant it's not outside the realm of possibility that one might survive that long. The odds are against it, but it's not impossible.

    So you go with the odds, and relative levels of damage involved. This is prepwork for a very expensive natural gas pipeline, and I doubt it really accounts for a significant portion of the overall expense.

    If no bombs are viable, then the project has spent some money unnecessarily and set off a series of 5kg (~11-pound) explosives and not done any real harm to the surrounding environment except for a bunch of little areas that are about to get a LNG pipeline plumbed through anyway.

    If just one of those bombs is live and goes off when natural gas is flowing through the LNG pipeline they want to build, that could be very devastating over a very large area.

  • by qzak ( 1115661 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @05:53PM (#31160806)
    I guess you could call them shortsighted. But I also guess the times they lived in were a lot more desperate than yours. This is a situation where the mines that succeeded in their job caused more environmental devastation than the ones now sitting on the ocean bed (ever think about what a large ship is made of, not to mention its cargo?).

    For many of these folks, the war was one of survival: you did what you needed to. Or would you not fire a gun at someone who intended you harm, out of worry about the lead in the bullet?
  • by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @05:54PM (#31160836) Journal

    Not only dangerous, but probably largely ineffective at actually preserving any environment.

    These are mines. If they still have explosives, then they might still have devices designed to make those explosives go boom when the mine is moved. If 1/4 of the mines are still active, you'll have 1/4 the large explosions.

    But you'll have larger, more expensive equipment that costs more and has to be abandoned due to severe damage the first time it encounters a mine that went off (as opposed to a small robot who was built to be blown up). Then you'll have bombs that make it all the way up to a ship THEN go off, leaving all the Diesel fuel and other chemicals in the water when the ship sinks

    Blowing them up in place is probably the most environmentally friendly way of disposing of the bombs, short of not building them in the first place of course. But I lack a time machine AND any way to change human nature. ;)

  • by The_mad_linguist ( 1019680 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @06:00PM (#31160912)

    That campaign has the effect of making them 400% more delicious to Dwarf Fortress players.

  • Re:Good news! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @06:41PM (#31161464)

    As soon as we need to build a pipeline through either of those places, we'll get right on that mine-clearing effort.

  • Re:humans (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @06:58PM (#31161658)

    I, for one, welcome the day this internet meme dies a horrible and violent death.

    It was never funny...and it certainly hasn't gotten any funnier in the past 5 years.

    Mod away.

  • by Harinezumi ( 603874 ) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @08:27PM (#31162656)
    The question is, do these invertebrates provide more value to the human species than the pipeline would? If they do not, it makes no sense for humans to protect them.
  • by dropadrop ( 1057046 ) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @03:52AM (#31166218)
    Add to this that we have plenty of nitrates and phosphorous in the baltic sea anyway dispite trying to regulate how close to the coast the farmers are aloud to grow plants (actually they get financial benefits for leaving a gap close to the shore). The problem in the baltic sea is not that the plants don't have enough fertilizer to grow, its that they have too much.

The other line moves faster.