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Remembrances & Condolences for HROV Nereus

Casey Machado, Nereus Expedition Leader

In Memory of Nereus

I am sad to announce that yesterday, May 9th, at around 1am local time, Nereus was lost at sea. While working on the seafloor at 10000m depth, connection was lost suddenly to the vehicle, which at the time was believed simply to be a routine failure in the fiber tether. Acoustic communication also ceased immediately at that point and after almost a day of waiting in anticipation of various abort timers and corrodible links to drop weights, a small field of debris was spotted on the surface. Many chunks of polypropylene plastic were seen, most could fit easily in the palm of your hand. When brought aboard it was without a doubt pieces of Nereus? flotation structure. I learned later that at around the time of the loss of comms, a loud noise was heard below decks followed immediately by what was described as a "popcorn" like cascade of other lesser implosions.

Nereus was lost doing what she was designed to do, exploring the deepest reaches of the ocean with a basket full of samples and a control room filled with scientists interacting actively for the first time with the Hadal seafloor. I am still stunned in disbelief by the whole experience and I feel as if I have lost a child. I?d greet Nereus each morning on deck, and wave goodbye to her as she was released to her long commute down to work each dive. She will be missed greatly.

As I think back upon my career it is filled with many fond memories of Nereus and just as importantly the relationships I have built in the countless hours of work with her success as a common goal. Nereus was truly unique. She had a character and personality so big that she barely fit into her own shipping container and on many occasions frustrated all of us with her capricious nature. It was her actions and achievements however that would constantly guide us to take her shortcomings in stride.

After learning to swim alongside kayakers off the sunny coast of northern Oahu, she then went on to wade deeper and deeper into the ocean. Undaunted, she went to earn her place beside a legend, Trieste, by exploring the deepest reaches of the Mariana Trench? a mutual achievement they were able to celebrate together at the Naval Museum in DC during Trieste's 50th anniversary. Next she demonstrated that at times it is better to be two things rather than just one as she headed out on her own for the first real time as an AUV to sniff out the vents on the Mid Cayman Rise, though missing by only a short distance when returning to explore as an ROV, the information gather did help lead to the discovery of several new vents sites. With a taste of freedom, Nereus was ready to tackle a more ambitious autonomous goal, deploying subsea nodes and laying fiber cable across the seafloor--a task which she ran headlong into achieving, again proving to us that her versatility was a great asset to furthering the ideas of underwater technology.

Continuing along a path of innovation, Nereus returned to Guam and eagerly carried an optical modem to the seafloor, becoming the first untethered ROV and helping to open the door to the next generation of vehicles. Now a seasoned seagoer, Nereus return triumphantly to the Mid Cayman Rise where she had explored years early and did not disappoint while showing off her new tricks, toys, and improvements. Nereus picked up where she left off (quite literally in the case of one very lucky sampler). While not as big or strong as the others who had visited the site before, Nereus showed she could hold her own, sampling hydrothermal vents like the best of them. It did not go unnoticed by the community, pretty soon Nereus had a full schedule for the upcoming year, and away we went.

This last trip to explore the Kermadec trench was as ambitious as it proved to be difficult in so many ways. I think that we often take for granted just how challenging the things we accomplish can be. Even amidst the seemingly countless setbacks, Nereus still was able to deliver samples, stunning imagery, and a short glimpse into a place on earth barely ever explored? while the sting of her loss is still fresh, it can be easy to forget that this too is a noteworthy accomplishment. We do things no one else does, and the only reason that is possible is through the talent, dedication, and perseverance of all those involved. I want to thank everyone for the support given during this cruise, those of you on shore were a firm support to fall back on.

As we move forward I urge that the memory of Nereus be a constant reminder for us to strive to not settle in what we do and armed with all the lessons we have learned, to continue to push what others may consider achievable. The legacy of Nereus does live on, as she is survived by the Nereids, who, though still young, will undoubtedly go on to accomplish great things.

Goodbye Nereus, thank you for all you have taught me, I will miss you.

With love,
Casey

James Cameron, Explorer & Filmmaker

I feel like I've lost a friend. Nereus was an amazing, groundbreaking robot and the only currently active vehicle in the world that could reach the extreme depths of the ocean trenches. This is a tragic loss for deep science. I know how attached you can become to a robotic vehicle, especially one you're built yourself (having lost one of our "bots" inside the Titanic wreck), so I know what the Nereus team must be feeling. Andy Bowen, head of the team, and Tim Shank, chief scientist of the Kermadec expedition, are friends of mine, and my heart goes out to them. They've lost a great opportunity to explore one of the ocean's deep trenches -- the last great frontier for exploration on our planet. It's so hard to get funding for deep ocean science, and it took them years to put this expedition together. Perhaps this is an opportunity to evaluate how thin our capability is as a nation, that the loss of a single vehicle now denies us access to an area the size of North America -- which is what the combined area of the deep "hadal" trenches equals. A dark day for many reasons.

It's sad for me too. I always dreamed of making a joint dive with Nereus and Deepsea Challenger at hadal depth.

JC

Margaret Leinen, Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography

On behalf of all of Scripps Institution of Oceanography we want to express our sadness at the loss of the wonderful exploration platform, the Nereus. We heard the news this morning and understand what a blow this is for the scientists and for WHOI, but also for all of us that understand the need to explore the oceans greatest depths. I’m sure that there will be lessons that we learn about construction that will flow into the development of an even better platform for the future.

Best wishes,
Margaret

Charles Elachi, Director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

It was with a heavy heart that I read about the loss of the Nereus submersible. The pioneering work of your institution has pushed the frontier of deep ocean exploration over the decades, and Nereus was a grand centerpiece for robotic capabilities in science and discovery.

Few institutions around the globe understand the challenges, stress and range of emotions that come with success and failure in robotic exploration. From one institution to another, we here at JPL extend our condolences to you and your team. Echoing the grand vision of Teddy Roosevelt, our motto here at JPL is to "Dare Mighty Things."  To truly dare mighty things and push the frontier, failure has to be an option. The frontier is unforgiving, and all we can do is learn, retool and keep pushing forward.

Many of the challenges JPL faces in the robotic exploration of our solar system have parallels to challenges your team faces with robotic systems in the deep ocean.  As you move forward and rebuild, if we can be of any assistance, please let me know.  Consider our resources and talent available to you.

Exploration ­below and beyond is not for the faint of heart.  I am sure that you and your great team will rise to the occasion.

Best regards,
Charles

Last updated: May 15, 2014