Human-powered Alvin vehicle successfully completes science test

Newswise — The submarine occupied by people Alvin is ready to return to scientific research at its recently certified maximum depth of 6,500 meters (4 miles). That’s the conclusion of a team of scientists who have spent the past three weeks putting the iconic submarine through its paces at locations in the Puerto Rico Slope and Middle Cayman Rise, testing its science and engineering systems to ensure they are capable of support the requirements of deepwater sampling and data collection.

“We set a high bar for Alvin and easily met or exceeded our expectations,” said Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Associate Scientist Anna Michel, chief scientist of the National Deep Immersion Facility, which operates Alvin. “Alvin is ready for science.

Michel and University of Rhode Island geophysicist Adam Soule lead the way Alvin’s A scientific verification expedition that left San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 6 and completed five scientific dives in the Puerto Rico Trench. These dives focused on the submarine’s ability to support multidisciplinary research, including geological sampling and observation among towering rocks formed by the collision of the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates and biological sampling at abyssal and adal depths. The scientists were able to make direct observations and collect samples of exposed oceanic crust, deep channels carved into the Puerto Rican platform, and organisms on the sea floor, some of which were the deepest known examples of their species.

After a short stop in San Juan for a scientific team exchange, Alvinsupport vessel, the research vessel Atlantis, continued to a region south of the Cayman Islands known as the Cayman Rise, where the two plates are separating at a rate of about 15 millimeters (0.5 in) per year. There, the scientists conducted nine more dives, focusing on chemical and biological sampling around hydrothermal vents and seepage sites, including the Beebe Vent Field, the hottest and deepest known hydrothermal vents on Earth.

“These were complex dives in complex locations that put a test not only to the submarine, but also to the people who operate it and who make the science possible,” Soule said. “Their skills and recent improvements to the submarine meant we were able to make fundamental new discoveries while validating its operation.”

The upgrades were funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), installed during an overhaul period that began in March 2020, and build on additional upgrades completed in 2014. The latest round of upgrades included new titanium ballast spheres, upgraded hydraulic system, new thrusters and motor controllers, updated command and control and navigation systems, and a new 4K imaging system. because Alvin is owned by the US Navy, then completed a three-week sea trial in cooperation with the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), which oversees the safety of all ships and submarines in the fleet, and finished with official certification for operation at a depth of 6,500 meters.

total, Alvin completed 14 dives during the NSF-funded scientific verification expedition for a total of 102 hours underwater, 53 of which were spent surveying the seafloor, a significant achievement given the extended time required to reach sites that are as much as 2,000 meters ( 1.25 miles) deeper than the submarine’s previous maximum depth. In addition, the dives allowed 11 scientists to make their first dives Alvinsomething Michelle said was an intentional part of the expedition.

Alvin is built and maintained to enable new discoveries and provide new insight into the way our planet works,” Michel said. “Each generation of scientists poses new questions and Alvin has responded in ways that have rewritten the textbooks. There is a new generation waiting to use the submarine and we say to them:Alvin is ready, where do you want to go?'”


About the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is a private, not-for-profit organization in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, dedicated to marine research, engineering and higher education. Established in 1930, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to convey an understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. WHOI’s pioneering discoveries stem from an ideal blend of science and engineering—one that has made it one of the most trusted and technically advanced leaders in basic and applied ocean research and exploration anywhere. WHOI is known for its multidisciplinary approach, superior ship operations and unparalleled deep-sea robotics capabilities. We play a leading role in ocean monitoring and operate the most extensive set of data collection platforms in the world. The best scientists, engineers and students collaborate on more than 800 concurrent projects around the world – above and below the waves – expanding the boundaries of knowledge and possibilities. For more information, please visit

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