Nereus will provide scientists access to some of the most remote areas on Earth, including transform faults (which run along the boundary of tectonic plates), under the polar ice caps, and in deep ocean trenches. Only a very small fraction of these areas have been explored for science.
Why do scientists want to access the deepest parts of the ocean?
The oceans cover over 70 percent of the planet and average two miles in
depth, with the deepest depth reaching 11.2 kilometers (7 miles).
Nereus will allow researchers to learn about these unexplored places
by making photographs,taking biological samples, and creating bathymetric maps.
Why do scientists need two modes of operation using one vehicle?
When scientists go to sea, their vehicle needs often vary depending on their research and what they learn about an area as they investigate it. For example, they might want to survey an undersea ridge or mountain region, which requires the use of a faster moving, autonomous vehicle. Once the site has been surveyed, researchers may want to switch to use of a remotely-operated vehicle equipped with powerful thrusters and manipulator arms that facilitate detailed study and sampling of rocks and organisms at specific sites.
What has prevented scientists from routinely accessing to the deepest parts of the ocean?
For the past 50 years, technical limitations have restricted regular, direct access to depths of 6,500 meters (21,000 feet) or less. Only a few deeper-diving vehicles have ever been developed (notably, the submersible Trieste, which went to the deepest point of the Pacific Ocean in 1960, and Japan's remotely operated vehicle Kaiko, which dove to 10,912 meters (35,800 feet) in 1995).
What can Nereus do that other vehicles cannot?
Nereus is designed to help scientists with many research needs, using a single tool. So instead hauling multiple research vehicles out to sea, scientists will use the vehicle for their entire mission, from seafloor surveys to sampling of rocks, fluids, chemicals, or deep-sea animals. Traditionally, a separate vehicle is used to conduct the survey portion of the mission, while another vehicle does the close-up work and sampling.
Is it expensive, or time-consuming, to use Nereus?
Using a single vehicle for multiple purposes avoids delays and
saves money. On research cruises, researchers might switch between the
two modes of operation, thus optimizing scientific return and pushing
forward with discovery during their time at sea.
The Deep Submergence Lab (DSL) at WHOI is building Nereus. What qualifies them for such an endeavor?
The goal of engineers and scientists working in the DSL is to
accelerate exploration of the deep-sea floor by developing systems for
remote ocean exploration. The lab is the base for some of the deepest
diving vehicles and instruments in use, including the remotely operated
vehicle Jason. DSL also maintains a test-bed underwater
vehicle and test tank facility for basic research in underwater vehicle
dynamics and control.
Does Nereus require new or special engineering for use in such an extreme environment?
Nereus requires new technologies such as ceramic housings for cameras and other electronic equipment to withstand pressure at the vehicle's extreme operating depths. It also requires the development of a special microfiber cable.
How long does it take to switch the vehicle from one mode to the next?
Engineers expect that the conversion between ROV and AUV modes will take approximately 12 hours.
Can Nereus transform between modes in the water?
Humans must do the transforming, thus requiring Nereus to be on the ship's deck. They cannot make the transformation while the vehicle is in the water.
How long will Nereus be able to stay in the water for science missions?
Nereus will operate on rechargeable batteries, so it will need to come out of the water about every 24 hours. Engineers are working on optimizing how fast Nereus will ascend and descend to the seafloor, a trip that current estimates place at 6 hours each way.
Will Nereus be able to operate from any ship?
Nereus is intended for use on most ocean research vessels. Engineers are designing Nereus so that it can be transported in several, 20-foot long containers. It is designed for rapid response, allowing researchers to react quickly to seismic activity and other unexpected events in the deep sea.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is dedicated to research and education to advance understanding of the ocean and its interaction with the Earth system, and to communicating this understanding for the benefit of society. Learn more »