The U.S. Nathaniel B. Palmer research vessel has just set off for Antarctica where it will deploy a tiny unmanned yellow submarine beneath an ice shelf to seek clues to rising world sea levels, and carry out a series of other research projects. See story here.

Palmer was an explorer and seal hunter who was among the first people to spot Antarctica in 1820 — part of the Antarctic peninsula is named after him.

The 94-metre ship, operated for the National Science Foundation, has been in Punta Arenas at the southern tip of Chile preparing for the voyage.

Chief scientist for the mission, Stan Jacobs of Columbia University, took time out to show Reuters TV’s Stuart McDill and me around the spotless red and yellow vessel (bridge shown right) just as the final preparations were being made.

Safety first — we had to wear lifejackets just to climb up the gangway (there was even a net to catch us before we hit the water if we fell off) and hard hats on deck. Noisy cranes were busy loading supplies.