History of Alvin
The dream of building a manned deep ocean research submersible
first started to move toward reality on February 29, 1956. Allyn
Vine of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) attended
a symposium in Washington, where participants drafted a resolution
that the U.S. develop a national program for manned undersea
vehicles. From this beginning the community eventually obtained
the Trieste bathyscaphe, but it was quite large and not
very maneuverable -- a better craft was needed.
In 1960, Charles Momsen, head of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), petitioned for scientists to rent a submersible with ONR funds, and found WHOI investigators interested. In the spring of 1962, after unsuccessful negotiations with various submersible builders to rent a sub, Vine and others at Woods Hole went requested bids to buy a small submersible based on drawings made by Bud Froehlich for a vehicle he called the Seapup. General Mills won the bid for $472,517 for an unnamed 6,000-foot submersible.
The firm of Hahn & Clay, under the direction of Larry Megow, fabricated three 6-foot diameter HY-100 steel spheres for General Mills in December 1962, and cut the window holes in the spring of 1963. Spheres 2 and 3 were later used for the Navy’s Sea Cliff and Turtle. No one at that time knew the true capabilities of the spheres, so they built three for redundancy. One was to be tested to destruction in February 1964, and plexiglass windows were installed by Southwest Research Institute. The test chamber, however, proved to be inadequate: the chamber lid blew off at 9,676 feet equivalent pressure!
Meanwhile, the Woods Hole operational team had begun to form, calling themselves the Deep Submergence Group. They started using the name Alvin for the sub to honor the prime mover and creative inspiration for the vehicle, Allyn Vine, a scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The name also benefitted from belonging to a popular cartoon chipmunk, but Allyn Vine was the true namesake.
Litton Systems took over the building of the Alvin and on May 26, 1964 delivered it to Woods Hole, where it was commissioned on June 5. Froehlich, Vine, and pilot Bill Rainnie made the first two dives. There were a total of 77 shallow, tethered dives in or near Woods Hole to maximum depths of 70 feet, with the first free dive of the submersible taking place on Aug. 4, 1964 to 35 feet.
In 1965 a local Cape Cod craftsman constructed the sub’s first tender from a pair of surplus Navy pontoons, and the catamaran Lulu (named after Vine’s mother) was born. In March Lulu and Alvin headed off on their first voyage to Andros Island in the Bahamas to inspect the ARTEMIS underwater listening array at Tongue of the Ocean, which was the original justification Momsen had used to obtain funding for construction. They first stopped at Port Canaveral for trials, then moved on to the Bahamas where they made a successful 12-hour, unmanned tethered 7,500-foot test dive. Alvin now had two pilots, Rainnie and Marvin McCamis, and on July 20, 1965 they made their first 6,000-foot dive for the Navy to obtain certification.
The following paragraphs give a brief description of annual activities since those early years.
An Air Force B-52 and a tanker collided over Spain, dropping an H-bomb in the Mediterranean off Palomares, Spain, in January. The Alvin team was selected to attempt recovery in conjunction with the Navy's CURV towed vehicle. In February 1966, Alvin and its support vans were loaded into two Air Force cargo aircraft at Otis Air Force Base and flown to Rota, Spain. During the next two months, Alvin, operating from a Navy LSD, searched the ocean floor off Spain for the lost H-bomb. The bomb was located for the first time on March 15, but was subsequently lost during an attempt to attach lift lines. The bomb slid down-slope to deeper water, and the search continued. The bomb was relocated on April 2 and recovered by CURV April 7. Alvin returned to Cape Cod for completion of the overhaul begun before the Spanish adventure.
Alvin returned to the Bahamas for Navy dives with subsequent
transit north for biology/geology dives on the Blake Plateau
and off Cape Charles. During Dive 202, on July 6, Alvin
was attacked by a swordfish on the bottom at about 2,000 feet.
The fish became trapped in Alvin’s skin and was
brought back to the surface (and cooked for dinner).
Alvin completed a series of dives south of New England in the canyons and along the continental slope for geology, biology, thermal studies and sound measurements. On Dive 209, in the Hydrographer Canyon area, a Navy F6F aircraft was found, photographed, and surveyed. It was later identified as being lost overboard from a carrier during practice runs in 1944 (the pilot escaped).
On Dive 224, September 24, the mechanical arm was lost during a rough recovery. The arm was subsequently found and recovered on dive 236 on October 15. It was reconditioned and reinstalled.
A series of dives were made to look for submerged whales, Navy dives surveyed the tops of seamounts for a new acoustic test range and geology and biology studies were completed. During the launch for Dive 308 on October 16, Alvin’s cradle support cables failed and Alvin slid into the water and sank to the bottom in 5,000 feet of water. Ed Bland, pilot, received some bruises and a sprained ankle while exiting from the sub. Poor weather conditions and insufficient recovery equipment prevented recovery during the remainder of the year.
Alvin remained on the bottom until Labor Day. The DSV Aluminaut (a submersible from the Reynolds Aluminum Company) and the R/V Mizar assisted in the recovery, which required placement of a lifting bar into Alvin’s hatch (Aluminaut pilots had to break the sail in order to accomplish this). Mizar then raised Alvin to 50 feet, where divers wrapped the sub with lines and nets to prevent loss of any pieces. Alvin was towed to Martha’s Vineyard, where a crane mounted on a barge pulled it out of the water. Overall, there was very little structural damage to the submersible (except for the sail). Lunches left on board were soggy but edible. Discovery that near-freezing temperatures and the lack of decaying oxygen at depth aided preservation opened up new areas of biological and chemical research.
Alvin underwent a major overhaul after its ten-month dunking.
Alvin’s first post-loss dive was 309 on May 17.
In mid-June a permanent bottom station was established on the
continental slope south of Martha’s Vineyard. The station
was regularly revisited for many years. When Ruth Turner visited
the bottom station on Dive 345, it was the first science dive
with a woman observer.
The Gulf of Maine and the Straits of Florida provided sites for the next series of dives. On Dive 364 Alvin was attacked and hit by a large blue marlin while on the bottom off Grand Bahama Island. The fish did some damage to the underwater lights and sail and much damage to himself.
A series of dives were completed for biology at the Martha’s Vineyard station, for geology and biology in the Hudson Canyon, and in the Gulf of Maine (geology) for navigational and rock drill experiments.
During the spring, a new titanium pressure hull and variable ballast system were installed. After a series of simulated dives in a Maryland pressure test tank, Alvin was officially certified to 12,000 feet.
Project FAMOUS (French-American Mid-Ocean Undersea Study) provided our first close-up look at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge along with the French submersibles Cyana and Archimede. National Geographic ran articles on the Project in the May 1975 issue, authored by WHOI scientists Bob Ballard and Jim Heirtzler.
Alvin completed a series of dives in the Bahamas (biology), at Grand Bahama Island (geology), Blake Plateau (biology), and made a radioactive waste dump site survey. A new deep (12,000 feet) bottom station south of Cape Cod was established.
Alvin was certified for 4,000 meters (13,124 feet). A series of geology dives took the sub to the Cayman Trough, and Navy dives were made near St. Croix and Tongue of the Ocean. Biology studies were carried out on the shelf, slope, and canyons south of Cape Cod. A waste drum was recovered from the radioactive waste disposal site off New Jersey.
Alvin traveled through the Panama Canal for the first
time. Geology work in the Galapagos Rift was completed during
February and March. The major discovery of an abundance of exotic
animal life on and in the immediate proximity of warm water
vents prompted theories about the generation of life. Since
no light can penetrate through the deep waters, scientists concluded
that the animal chemistry here is based on chemosynthesis, not
Return passage was made through the Canal for April dives in the Cayman Trough (a continuation of a geology investigation). During this series a Nicaraguan earthquake occurred and was plainly felt by Alvin while submerged.
A new titanium structural frame was installed. Radioactive waste and biology studies continued off the East Coast. A second trip to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge was made for plate tectonic (geology) studies at the spreading center.
Transit to Panama was followed by biology and geology cruises
to the Galapagos in January and February. National Geographic
filmed dives for the highly acclaimed special “Dive to
the Edge of Creation.”
In April and May Alvin made its first trip to the East Pacific Rise at 21 deg North. These geology dives revealed hot water vents or “black smokers” spewing forth super-heated water at 350 degC (650 degF). Many of the same animals found at the Galapagos vents were found at this location off Mexico. Further dives near San Diego, Tamayo Fracture Zone, East Pacific Rise, and Galapagos were made from June through December.
Alvin completed its 1,000th dive at the Galapagos Rift
Alvin returned to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and Kane and Oceanographer Fracture Zones during June and July for geology studies as well as additional dives along the East Coast, the Bahamas, and St. Croix. The BBC filmed a television special.
Extensive work continued in the St. Croix area, after which Alvin returned to Galapagos and the East Pacific Rise following dives in the Panama Basin.
The schedule included dives at East Pacific Rise and Guaymas Basin. CBS News Anchor Walter Cronkite made Dive 1211 to the hot vents. Dives at the Panama Basin were followed by a long transit to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Alvin returned to Woods Hole in August and completed local studies for biology, geology, and ocean engineering followed by dives in the Florida Straits and the Providence Channel.
A major Alvin overhaul in Woods Hole included the addition of a T-fitting on the sub’s frame to allow for a single-point overhead lift system, replacing the elevator method. At the same time, R/V Atlantis II was prepared for its new role as mother ship and tender for Alvin. These extensive modifications were conducted during AII’s regular mid-life refit. A large A-frame was added to the stern for Alvin launch and recovery.
Alvin and Atlantis II departed Woods Hole in January
for Charleston, SC. Final preparations and harbor tests, including
the first actual Alvin launch and recovery with the A-frame,
were followed by a geology cruise to the Blake Plateau. Several
rough water recoveries were made at sea, proving the A-frame
system could work under less than ideal conditions.
During a March geology/biology cruise on the West Florida Escarpment in the Gulf of Mexico, a series of bottom cold water vent communities were discovered. The animals found were very similar in appearance to those in the Pacific.
Alvin transited to the Pacific for further dives in the Panama Basin and on the East Pacific Rise. In mid-April the towed camera sled ANGUS discovered a new vent field to the south of the dive area, and Alvin visited it.
Dives at the Juan de Fuca and Gorda Ridge off the coasts of Oregon and Washington in July revealed black smoker hydrothermal vent activity in this northern spreading center.
Much of Alvin’s work during 1985 focused on the
vent communities at Guaymas Basin in the Gulf of California,
the East Pacific Rise off Mexico, and near the Galapagos Islands.
Successful tests were made of new deep ocean sampling and photographic
equipment designed for control from within Alvin. In
November, Alvin returned to Woods Hole to begin a five-month
The first part of the year was spent completing the major overhaul,
with improvements made to the submersible’s propulsion,
electrical, and instrumentation systems. The large stern and
small side lift propellers were replaced by six small electric
thrusters to increase speed and maneuverability. Brushless DC
motors designed specifically for Alvin replaced the hydraulic
propulsion system, providing increased reliability, efficiency,
Other improvements were made to Alvin during the overhaul. Safety release devices, payload capability, personnel sphere internal arrangement and the data logging/display system were upgraded.
In May, certification dives were held in Bermuda before Alvin returned to service. Dives on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at newly-found hot water vents discovered new species of shrimp and a six-sided animal thought to be extinct. In July, considerable media attention focused on dives to the wreck of RMS Titanic. Alvin made 12 dives to test a prototype robotic vehicle called Jason Jr. and to photographically document the wreck. After several other cruises in the North Atlantic, Alvin departed Woods Hole in late September to begin a two-year voyage into the Pacific. Year-end dives were made in the eastern Pacific with a holiday port call in San Diego.
Short cruises in the Santa Catalina Basin in early January were
followed by a series of dives on Loihi Seamount, south of the
Hawaiian Island chain, as scientists studied the underwater
volcano which will eventually be a new Hawaiian island.
Dives in the western Pacific near the Mariana Islands kept Alvin busy for much of the spring and summer, with new hydrothermal vent communities discovered in that area. A port call in Tokyo in early August brought thousands of visitors, including Japan’s Crown Prince Akihito. Transit to Oregon followed as Alvin began a series of dives on the Juan de Fuca Ridge off Washington and Oregon to continue ocean floor studies. Year-end dives in the Santa Catalina Basin were followed in November by drydocking of Atlantis II in San Diego for routine hull repair and maintenance.
Biology dives in the Santa Catalina Basin off San Diego in January preceded extensive biological and chemical studies in the Guaymas Basin. A trip to the East Pacific Rise in March saw geological work on ridge processes and was the site of Alvin Dive 2000 on March 22nd. Atlantis II and Alvin headed farther south in April to the Galapagos area for more research at the vent sites first explored in the mid-1970’s. A series of dives on the Oregon Continental Margin and Juan de Fuca Ridge began in early June to measure geological and geochemical processes as well as heat flow rates at "hot smoker" locations. In October, a benthic drifting algae and geologic study was conducted in Monterey Canyon, followed by more dives in Catalina Basin. In late November, the ship and submersible visited a biological study site at an underwater volcano off Acapulco, then transited the Panama Canal en route to Woods Hole.
The first seven months of 1989 saw Alvin undergo its triennial overhaul, with replacement of the sub’s through-hull electrical penetrators the major task. Atlantis II, meanwhile, carried scientists to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge for the first nonsubmersible studies since the 1983 conversion. A series of test and certification dives near Bermuda started the diving research season in mid-August, followed by work on the continental rise off New Jersey and biological community studies at the New York Bight sludge dumpsite. Alvin started December with more geological sampling on the rise south of New England, and following the holidays departed on Leg 1 of Voyage 125, scheduled to keep the ship operating away from Woods Hole for almost three years.
The first score of dives this year was spent exploring geochemical
aspects of active hydrothermal vents on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge
south of the Azores. After transiting to Jacksonville, Atlantis
II entered the shipyard for a month of maintenance concurrent
with minor Alvin upkeep.
In mid-March the submersible resumed diving in the Gulf of Mexico, visiting hydrocarbon seeps, brine pools and abyssal basins to catalog new biological species. Following transit through the Panama Canal, the vessels stopped briefly in Costa Rica to embark scientists before conducting geological structure measurements in the Hess Deep Rift Valley west of the Galapagos. The next port stop was Guayaquil, Ecuador, before diving continued at the Galapagos Rift, East Pacific Rise and Guaymas Basin.
Transiting north in July, Alvin began work on the Juan de Fuca Ridge in support of geophysical crustal studies, followed by interdisciplinary work for NOAA on the southern end of the ridge in August. The ship worked its way back south during September, with dives in Monterey Canyon en route to San Diego. Twin dive series on Fieberling Seamount west of California occupied the majority of the fall, while short cruises to the Santa Catalina Basin in early and late November allowed studies of benthic biology and Alvin’s Navy inspection.
The diving season opened in February in the Santa Catalina Basin
where studies of whale bone biological communities were conducted.
Following a transit to the Gulf of California, diving continued
in the Guaymas Basin in support of hydrothermal vent system
experiments. From there the ship and submersible returned to
the East Pacific Rise for two studies of hydrothermal, volcanological
and geochemical processes near ODP drill sites and the Siqueiros
Transform. After transit back to San Diego in late May, Alvin
entered a maintenance period in which the main batteries were
replaced and a Navy certification audit was successfully completed.
One week prior to the end of the maintenance period the Alvin Group was requested to assist the Navy in the recovery of its CURV III towed ROV system, lost off the coast of southern California. Alvin was quickly reassembled and made four search dives before finally recovering the vehicle on July 1st.
Following the recovery, the ship headed north to Oregon to begin a season of operations on the Juan de Fuca Ridge. The first cruise supported the initial stage of interdisciplinary studies of hydrothermal flange evolution, followed by biological examination of mollusc populations. A NOAA Vents Program cruise followed, featuring chemical and geological work on the southern ridge. During a second hydrothermal flange cruise in early September five auxiliary dives were conducted to support Office of Naval Technology experiments and to obtain data and samples from a previously instrumented Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) bore hole. The last Ridge leg of the year revisited the northern vent sites for isotope experiments and also revisited the ODP site for maintenance of the bore hole instrumentation.
After a month-long shipyard overhaul of Atlantis II, the final cruise of the 1991 dive year visited the East Pacific Rise for plankton studies in hydrothermal vent plumes.
Our first cruise in early February gave the Alvin operations
team a rare chance to conduct a series of engineering test dives
off San Diego. Experts in the photographic, underwater video
and acoustic fields were invited to participate in five shallow
dives to recommend improvements in Alvin’s capabilities.
Experiments included calibration of the still camera fields
of view, evaluation of a new generation of video lighting and
qualitative analysis of optimum light configurations, exposure
tests for various cameras, application testing of a low-cost
fathometer, and vehicle attitude/performance analysis. Extensive
testing of the sub’s hydraulic system resulted in corrective
measures designed to bring performance up to advertised capability.
Constructive external input from industry participants has already
fostered interest in both real-time, 3-D graphical display of
Alvin’s position in a navigated volume and the
potential for "video inertial navigation" from computer processing
of video images.
Scientific dives began on the East Pacific Rise in late February, where a multi-institutional team of investigators studied hydrothermal and geochemical processes in support of ODP work. The Rise area at 9 deg N had been found to be active during a late-1991 dive series, so experiments during this cruise provided an unusual temporal look at vent processes. Late in March, the Rise at 21 deg N was the site of geochemical sampling of hydrothermal fields, and in April scientists returned to the Rise at 10 deg N to complete experiments initiated with the French submersible Nautile in 1991.
Following a transit through the Panama Canal in early May, Alvin and Atlantis II made a port call in Galveston before beginning studies of chemosynthetic ecosystems at two sites in the Gulf of Mexico. Two dives were made for specimen collection at the West Florida Escarpment cold seeps, and the final dive of Voyage 125 allowed a video transect of megafaunal habitats on the Continental Rise near Block Canyon. The ship and sub returned to Woods Hole on June 10th after 575 days at sea, 367 dives and 894 days away from home port.
After a six-week layup the vessels departed WHOI in early August for studies of biological communities at Deepwater Dumpsite 106 off New York. Upon return to Woods Hole mid-month, Alvin began a major overhaul period.
The overhaul period ended in mid-March with certification and
engineering dives off Bermuda. Two subsequent dives for the
Royal Ontario Museum and the Bermuda Zoological Society sought
to catalog biodiversity and biota zonation on the flanks of
the island pedestal and nearby seamounts. We next embarked on
a seismic studies cruise to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, but mechanical/electrical
problems with Alvin’s new pressure-tolerant motor
controllers resulted in a radically shortened dive program.
Repairs were effected during a maintenance period in Bermuda
in April, after which the sub successfully completed three dive
series back at the ridge, including work at a newly-discovered
vent field south of the Azores. One Deep Water Dumpsite revisit
cruise was undertaken in mid-July before the now-familiar transit
through the Canal to the Pacific study areas. Fall explorations
on the Juan de Fuca Ridge focussed on geomorphology, geochemistry
and the retrieval of data from instruments left on ODP well
holes. In October Alvin’s schedule was modified
to include a cruise to the Axial Seamount area to investigate
recent volcanic eruptions in the hydrothermal vent field; use
of the former Navy underwater early-detection acoustic system
had alerted scientists to possible activity. Evidence of new
formations was indeed found at the site, proving the validity
of this new tool for event detection.
A shipyard period in November preceded the final voyage of the year, to the East Pacific Rise in support of biological community temporal studies.
This year began as the last one ended, with four lengthy cruises
to the East Pacific Rise and Costa Rica Accretionary Wedge.
Most of the work was in pursuit of geological and biological
programs, with an added dive for salvage purposes: a lost University
of Washington rock drill was recovered in late January.
Two milestones were reached this year, the first in early February. An arduous series of calculations and tests, performed in conjunction with the NAVSEA branch of the Navy, had proved that Alvin’s pressure hull was capable of withstanding even greater pressures than it had yet been subjected to, while still maintaining the substantial safety factor required for human occupancy. An increase in our depth rating by as little as 500 meters (to 4,500 meters or 14,764 feet) would allow investigators to explore an additional 20% of the ocean bottom! Replacement of the steel motor controller housings would be required due to their insufficient thickness, but once new titanium units had been installed the path was cleared to recertification. On February 5 three Alvin pilots made the historic dive to our new depth limit, paving the way for additional deep dives during the Costa Rica voyage.
The second date of note was June 5, 1994: Alvin’s 30th birthday. Most frequently asked question during the ceremonies held at Woods Hole and attended by numerous military and governmental dignitaries: does any part of the original Alvin remain in use today? The answer: no, all parts of the sub have been replaced at one point or another during her illustrious career as a deep ocean research platform, including the frame and pressure hull.
As with many government-funded operations in the US of late, the Alvin program was required to yield to budget pressures and curtail work by 60 days this year. A 30-day stand down in May was followed by a return to the Juan de Fuca area, where scientists continued time series measurements at hydrothermal vent field sites. A crew from a nature films production company recorded dives on the northern Ridge for inclusion in a television special on underwater research. In late summer-early fall a team from Scripps Institute of Oceanography studied benthic boundary layer biological communities at a site off California, followed by three final cruises to the Guaymas Basin and East Pacific Rise. A new, submersible-mounted rock drill was successfully tested, retrieving samples of volcanic material previously unreachable. 1994 ended with a transit to and the final half of the mandated stand down in Woods Hole.
The first voyage of the year took ship and submersible back
to the TAG hydrothermal site on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge to complete
dives lost two years earlier because of motor controller problems.
The next leg visited an ODP well site to collect data from emplaced
instruments, followed by a transit through the canal and on
to the bottom station at 9 deg N on the EPR, where the progress
and growth of biological communities were cataloged. Working
their way up the Latin American coast, investigators stopped
off California for more biology studies, then proceeded on to
the Juan de Fuca for a very full season (81 dives) of multi-disciplinary
work. Most programs were continuations of previous field research,
but new cameras, sonar systems and other sensors recently added
to the sub allowed new looks at vent features and fauna. Laser
range finders mounted on the sponson now permit scientists to
measure the size of objects in the still and video camera fields
of view, and vastly improved lighting facilitates close-up observation.
Alvin’s two hydraulic manipulators can reach and
retrieve artifacts on the bottom, and also activate a variety
of water and sediment samplers developed for deep sea use.
Alvin recorded Dive 3000 on September 20. A live underwater telephone/satellite link allowed shoreside dignitaries to congratulate the pilot and observers during the dive.
Insufficient funding forced a stand down period in October, which was followed by a return to the EPR. The rock drill was again used off the coast of Mexico, and numerous temporal experiments were deployed. The year ended with a transit to San Diego for the holidays.
With an overhaul scheduled for the latter part of the year and
funded diving programs scarce, Alvin’s operating
season would be short in 1996. It would also be the final year
of operation for our support ship Atlantis II, due to
be retired after 33 years of service.
After a week-long biological study of decaying whale carcasses in the Santa Catalina (California) channel, the Operations Team entered a stand down period from mid-January to mid-March. Starting up again in San Diego, three engineering dives were undertaken off the coast, followed by completion of the whale time-series studies. After a transit south to Manzanillo, Mexico, the month of April was spent examining fluid and light emissions at the East Pacific Rise hydrothermal vent field. Biomass studies and nighttime plume mapping were also part of the program. The investigators were debarked in Manzanillo prior to a two-week transit through the Panama Canal to Woods Hole.
Another stand down during the month of May allowed the crew some time off. The final two cruises of the operating season were to sites on the western Atlantic continental margin off New Jersey; the first to continue time series work at the deep water sludge dump site, and the second to conduct benthic flux, microelectrode profiling and sediment coring experiments.
Atlantis II returned to Woods Hole for the last time on July 3. Alvin was lifted off on the 9th and transferred to the dockside hangar to begin overhaul. The ship was stripped of all submersible support gear except the launch/recovery A-frame, which would be transferred to our new vessel Atlantis in Mississippi in late fall. Over 500 people gathered on the pier in late July to bid farewell to the AII, with many fond memories of past cruises shared. In her 13 years as submersible tender, the vessel sailed all of the world’s temperate oceans and allowed Alvin to reach locations our former tender Lulu could never have visited. AII, renamed Antares, will be continuing research under a new owner in the chilly waters off the Pacific northwest.
Alvin completed the triennial major overhaul at the end
of March. No major upgrades occurred during this maintenance
period, so a majority of the effort was devoted to dismantling,
testing and reassembly of all mechanical, electrical and electronic
systems. Small stress cracks in the titanium frame and syntactic
foam flotation blocks were repaired, and numerous cables and
connectors were replaced.
Our new deep submergence support vessel Atlantis arrived at WHOI April 11 following two weeks of builder’s trials on the way north from the shipyard in Mississippi. A large crowd of employees and dignitaries assembled on the dock to welcome the latest addition to our research fleet, the first new vessel WHOI has received since Oceanus in 1975. Fitting out and loading with Alvin and ship stores took over a month, with many modifications needed to stow all the gear. Ship and submersible left WHOI on June 2 for Bermuda to begin the Alvin recertification process, a series of post-overhaul test and engineering dives culminating in dives to 4,500 meters.
The first science dives of 1997 took place during the transit from Bermuda to the Azores and a subsequent 4-week voyage, where a science party from Great Britain’s British Ridge Project and a film crew from the BBC studied Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR) hydrothermal vent vent colonies and biological interactions. During this dive series Alvin and the French submersible Nautile met and filmed each other on the ocean bottom during two dives, an historic first for these subs.
In early August Atlantis transited through the Panama Canal to San Diego to begin work in the eastern Pacific. Three dives near San Diego for study of age-dependent bioturbation of deep sea sediments led this portion of the schedule, conducted by researchers from the University of Hawaii.
At the end of the month, Jason (WHOI’s primary remotely operated vehicle) was loaded on board the ship in preparation for our first test of Deep Submergence Group joint ROV/sub operations. This is the work Atlantis was designed for, allowing investigators to use the complete suite of underwater tools from the same platform anywhere in the world. A test lowering of Jason was conducted during the transit north to Astoria, Oregon, followed by two lengthy cruises to the Juan de Fuca hydrothermal region for geological experiments. Jason and Alvin were used during alternate periods to provide large- and fine-scale sampling capabilities, respectively, and performed flawlessly during repeated dives to the ridge vents despite deteriorating weather conditions.
In late October the ship headed south once again toward better sea states, and ended the operating season with two voyages to the East Pacific Rise biological time-series site. Continuing studies here reveal growth rates of animal communities near hot water vents and illustrate interactions between species in the hostile environment. One last transit back north, and the vessel arrived in San Diego for the holidays on Christmas Eve.
Alvin began the 1998 operating season at the end of March
following a shipyard/NAVSEA post-shakedown interval for Atlantis.
The first two dives allowed us to perform some engineering tests
off the coast of San Diego. Science dives commenced in early
April with a six-dive set for investigators from Skidaway and
Florida State studying cage performance relative to benthic
biology. A short transit to the Guaymas Basin area followed
mid-month to allow an ONR program to conduct a 7-dive interactive
field program utilizing Atlantis and the ROV Jason.
WHOI investigators next got a chance for further microbiological
work in the Basin at 27N and 21N before heading into Manzanillo,
Mexico in early May.
The Northern East Pacific Rise (9N) next received the sub’s attention, when WHOI researchers returned to the Biotransect site to continue temporal studies begun several years earlier. A six-dive series was scheduled after that to revisit a biological site off San Diego. Then the ship headed north to take advantage of the weather window, commencing dives on the Juan de Fuca Ridge in mid-June. The first leg allowed scientists from Lehigh and Scripps to examine hydrocarbon sequestration as gas hydrates and diagenetic carbonate deposits. The next two cruises saw investigators return to Ocean Drilling Program boreholes on the continental margin for in-situ measurements of interstitial water and ambient light. Finally, scientists embarked on 10-day leg for biological cataloging and nutritional interaction research on the northern segment of the Ridge.
After making the transit south to the San Diego area in early August, Alvin concluded the cage performance studies in the Santa Barbara Channel begun in April. A short maintenance period preceeded an extended cruise to the southern Pacific, which began in September with a transit to and work near Easter Island on the East Pacific Rise at 18S. During early fall investigators recovered and redeployed long-term monitoring instruments left during a 1997 Shinkai 6500/Yokosuka cruise and examined gas and fluid chemistry of hydrothermal systems on a superfast Rise spreading center. These two legs involved a total of 35 dives and required 76 days of ship time before returning to Manzanillo, Mexico in mid-November. Another time-series cruise to the Northern EPR was up next, where investigators from USC and the University of Delaware studied dispersal potential of hydrothermal vent animals. The final leg of the 1998 season again took the ship south toward Easter Island for volcanological research on the Rise at 18S, with the leg scheduled to end at Easter Island in mid-January 1999.
The manned component of the Deep Submergence Facility, Alvin
aboard Atlantis, began the 1999 operating season with
the continuation of a cruise for Rutgers and NOAA investigators
conducting volcanological research on the Southern East Pacific
Rise at 18° S, with the leg ending at Easter Island in mid-January.
From there scientists from Hawaii and William & Mary continued
volcanological experiments in the mid-ocean ridge area south
of the equator, focusing on geology and biological communities
at fast spreading centers. The DSL-120 sonar vehicle,
ABE AUV and Alvin were all employed for this work before
the vessel headed north to port in Manzanillo, Mexico. The third
leg of the year took a team of Duke researchers to the Hess
Deep in the equatorial Pacific to study the geology of oceanic
crust, where the Argo ROV was used to provide broad-scale
imaging prior to inspection by the submersible. Starting in
mid-April from Manzanillo, the final two cruises of early-season
East Pacific Rise work consisted of biological experiments at
the northern segment of the ridge, first for WHOI/Harvard scientists
and later for those from Delaware and Rutgers. These programs
were continuations of temporal observations designed to give
investigators insight into long-term fluctuations in species
populations and dynamics. Following this work, the vessel docked
in San Diego for a two-week maintenance period in early June.
Taking advantage of the summer weather window, Alvin next moved north to the Juan de Fuca Ridge off the coast of Oregon and Washington. First up were scientists from Oregon State and Lehigh, who deployed benthic sampling devices such as corers and flowmeters on the Cascadia accretionary prism to characterize conditions at active seafloor vents. Throughout much of July and August we completed another first for Alvin: work in the Gulf of Alaska at 51-57° N, where investigators based at the West Coast and Polar Regions Undersea Research Center coordinated study of species diversity, flux measurements, hydrogeologic, volcanic and tectonic processes on various seamounts. Next the vessel headed back to the Juan de Fuca area for data recovery from six long-term instrumented ODP borehole seals, with additional dives for in-situ measurement of dissolved hydrogen and sulfates in hydrothermal fluids. The final leg in this region in late September carried Pennsylvania and Harvard researchers to the Endeavour Ridge for examination of biological interactions in Vestimentiferan aggregations, followed by a transit south to San Diego at the beginning of October.
The next cruise, in the Santa Catalina Basin just off San Diego, took Hawaii scientists back to a whale skeleton study site to continue observation of fauna affinities and behavior. A second two-week maintenance period will followed in San Diego. Two final legs to the East Pacific Rise rounded out the year; both focussing on temporal study of biological communities in the 9-10° N region. Atlantis ended the year in San Diego December 28.
The 2000 Alvin operating year began in San Diego with
a transit to the Guaymas Basin area in the Gulf of California.
The first science cruise allowed Delaware and Penn State scientists
to study pyrite deposits, a crucial stratum for microbial life
in extreme hydrothermal environments. A return visit to the
East Pacific Rise 9N site followed, where investigators conducted
near-bottom geophysical traverses across the ridge axis using
a gravimeter. The sub and support ship then returned to San
Diego for a six-week maintenance period in the schedule.
Oregon State researchers lead off the next segment of the program, with experiments to characterize the sources and consequences of fluid discharge along the San Clemente fault zone off southern California. Investigators from Rutgers took the sub back to the East Pacific Rise in April to continue time series analyses and experiments at deep-sea hydrothermal vents. USC scientists headed a team that next worked in that area, seeking to document dispersal potential of hydrothermal vent animals.
In early June Atlantis steamed north to the Juan de Fuca region to conduct four science cruises during the summer weather window. Univ. of Washington investigators began with multidisciplinary vent studies at previously established hydrothermal sites, followed by attempts to characterize distribution of phototrophic organisms by scientists from WHOI, the Univ. of Alaska and William & Mary. Miami and Scripps researchers then conducted in-situ experiments at an ODP borehole to study the formation of authigenic carbonates and gas hydrates. The last voyage in the region allowed UW scientists to study the effects of tidal fluctuations on fluid sampling.
In late September Atlantis began the long transit back to Woods Hole, stopping in the Gulf of Mexico to investigate stability and change in chemosynthetic communities for scientists from Texas A&M. From there the ship and sub proceeded to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge via Bermuda, where the last leg of the operating season gave Scripps investigators an opportunity to perform structural mapping of the eastern Atlantic ridge-transform intersection. The ship returned to WHOI in mid-December, when Alvin began a six-month overhaul.
In year 2001, the WHOI Deep Submergence Group began a triennial
Alvin overhaul. Among the items upgraded this time
were thruster motor controllers, the in-hull computer system,
data logger and camera systems. The external 35mm film camera
system was retired in favor of video frame grabbing capability
and digital photography. Alvin recertification dives
began in mid-June, and by the end of that month the sub was
ready once again to undertake science work.
An eighteen-dive program for NSF on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge was the first program scheduled, with the focus on biology and geology of hydrothermal vent sites. That cruise ended in Ponta Delgada, Azores in late July. Another NSF program was next up, which saw an IMAX camera used to film the underwater ridge habitat for later inclusion in a feature film. Several of those dives had only two occupants in the submersible since the large-format camera took up so much room in the peersonnel sphere!
The ship with Alvin then transited to Bermuda for some public relations dives, followed by biological studies in the canyons south of New England. It was during one of these cruises that the terrorist events in New York occurred, forcing our deep submergence assets to alter dive plans numerous times in response to drastically increased Naval activity in the area. Alvin continued diving, and the ship sailed south to the Blake Outer Ridge for several final dives in the Atlantic before transiting the Panama Canal and returning to the East Pacific Rise to resume time series programs. Four cruises were scheduled for the East Pacific Rise area in the fall of 2001and early 2002. The focus of these cruises was the extreme environment of hydrothermal vents and the effects on the biology found there, as well as to study the Central Anomaly Magnetic High, CAMH, along the fast-spreading East Pacific Rise. The final cruise for 2001 departed Manzanillo, Mexico in early December and facilitated investigation by UCSB scientists of the evolutionary instability at two different vent sites.
We began the year by finishing a cruise which originated in
2001 at the East Pacific Rise, and then left immediately for
an NSF-funded cruise departing Manzanillo, Mexico during the
first week of January. During this voyage Alvin dove
25 times for UNH researchers to conduct geochemistry/biology
work at the Biotransect site. This cruise was followed by
a five-week maintenance period in San Diego which included
an Atlantis submersible handling system Navy certification
inspection. The first cruise following maintenance mid-March
was to take the vessel a short distance from San Diego for
IMAX filming of the sub launch sequence for inclusion in an
upcoming feature production on the deep sea. Unfortunately,
during the first dive the ship's two stern propulsion motors
developed electrical problems due to carbon buildup, requiring
them to be shut down before further damage resulted. Alvin
operations were suspended and the ship was towed back into
San Diego for five weeks of extensive repairs, including motor
replacement and testing. In late April the vessel was once
again readied for sea, new motors tested and the IMAX filming
completed. Somewhat behind schedule, the vessel headed south
to begin work on the East Pacific Rise.
The first set of dives at the EPR were to conduct geology Alvin dives that could not be made as originally scheduled in late 2001 due to viewport problems. This cruise terminated in the Galapagos Islands, where a second science party embarked for nine dives at the Galapagos Rift to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the discovery of hydrothermal vents at that site. The area looked quite different from our last visit, with many of the biological communities wiped out by fresh lava flows and recent tectonic activity. New areas of activity were discovered, however, and new sites mapped and named.
In early June Atlantis transited north along the west coast of the U.S. to Astoria, Oregon, where NOAA scientists embarked for a leg to explore the biology and geology of selected Gulf of Alaska seamounts. Afterward the vessel returned to Astoria where the brand new Jason II ROV was loaded aboard for a week of sea trials, which proceeded without a hitch. Alvin instrumentation and auto-pilot control software improvements were also tested during this period. Two Alvin cruises in the Juan de Fuca region were conducted in July/August, followed by a September cruise utilizing Jason II, that vehicle's first science use, and two other non-Alvin mooring trips. Heading south once again in mid-October, the ship picked up a science party in San Diego and started the last three cruises of the year, involving NSF-sponsored Alvin dives and biological studies on or near the East Pacific Rise. The year ended with Atlantis dropping the science investigators in Puntarenas, Cost Rica before transiting the Panama Canal and arriving in Miami New Year's Day 2003.
Atlantis began 2003 in the shipyard undergoing maintenance
and a Navy in-service inspection. The first cruise after the
yard period supported engineering trials. Two dives were scheduled
and completed under the watchful eye of Barrie Walden, Group
Manager. Alvin scientific diving operations began in
early April with a 30-day voyage to the Lost City hydrothermal
field south of the Azores. The purpose of this leg was to sample
vents for fluid, microbes and chimney material, as well as characterize
the surrounding geology and tectonic setting. Eighteen dives
were scheduled and 21 dives were completed for the University
of Washington. Alvin Expedition Leader Pat Hickey completed
his 500th dive during this cruise.
Moving back to the New England Seamount area in late May, Alvin collected deep-sea corals and bathymetry data for CalTech researchers. Fifteen dives were scheduled, but only 11 dives were completed due to extended bad weather. Of those completed, several were made at a secondary seamount because of continued bad weather at the primary seamount area. In early June the ship and submersible returned to the TAG site on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge for deployment of WHOI seismic and thermal monitoring equipment on and around a hydrothermal mound. Six dives were originally scheduled but seven dives were completed during this voyage. In July and August, two cruises were conducted for NOAA Ocean Exploration dives off the southeastern US coast. Thirteen dives were scheduled for the two legs and all were completed.After an extended ship maintenance period in Woods Hole during August and September, Atlantis transited to the Gulf of Mexico where another NOAA party explored the ecology of cold seeps. In late October Atlantis transited from Galveston through the Panama Canal and boarded the next science party. From Panama, a Field Museum of Chicago scientist and her party surveyed vent fauna along the East Pacific Rise at 9 degrees North. The final cruise for the year was to the East pacific Rise at 9 North for researchers from the University of Delaware and Harvard to conduct an analysis of microbial symbiosis and deploy an in-situ electrochemical analyzer. The ship ended the year with a transit from Manzanillo, Mexico to San Diego.
A special year for our submersible, with two notable milestones
reached. A scheduled United States Coast Guard inspection
and a maintenance period in San Diego, California
led off this year.
We had one engineering dive before science operations began
28 January, which sent the ship south to the East Pacific
Rise, (EPR) to continue on-going research at Latitude 9 North
& Longitude 104 West. This RIDGE 2000 expedition characterized
geological features of the Central Anomaly Magnetic High,
(CAMH) and allowed further development, testing, & calibration
of an in-situ chemical sensor. An early March cruise for the
Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) to the Costa Rican subduction
zone enabled researchers to collect samples from long term
bore-hole observatory sites. In March and April Atlantis
returned to the East Pacific Rise Integrated Study Site at
9 North. This series of dives focussed on hydrothermal fluid
chemistry, biological community structure and the seismic
activity of this ocean region. Alvin also completed
Dive 4,000 during this series.
In May the ship transited north to the Pacific Northwest's Juan de Fuca Ridge area for several Alvin cruises and three general oceanographic research cruises. The latter included a voyage to deploy a prototype deep-water acoustically linked seafloor observatory. In June, Alvin passed its 40th anniversary since commissioning in 1964. Researchers off Oregon tested an in-situ incubator designed to explore the limits of life at submarine hydrothermal systems, and in July another RIDGE 2000 Endeavor Integrated Study Site cruise used the autonomous underwater vehicle ABE to measure the fluxes of heat and materials that tie geological forcing to biological responses. Atlantis supported a joint NSF/NOAA ECOHAB cruise in September, and then transited south to San Diego for a second scheduled maintenance period. The ship finished the operating year with two Biocomplexity cruises featuring Alvin dives on the East Pacific Rise.
Alvin began 2005 with a short maintenance period in San Diego. Our operating season started 14 January, with the ship and submersible heading south of the equator to the southern portion of the East Pacific Rise for both ROV and Alvin operations. The first program, from Easter Island to Tahiti, enabled researchers to locate and observe geological outcrops at the Pito Deep. In March Atlantis/Alvin continued work in the southern Pacific for researchers from MBARI and William & Mary, who studied gene flow and species diversity at hydrothermal vent communities. Data and samples collected on this cruise will benefit undergraduate, graduate, and post-doc students. In April Atlantis transited north from Easter Island, crossing the equator once again to the EPR at 9° N to continue the NSF-funded RIDGE 2000 Program. This collaborative research program included biological community structure experiments and seismic monitoring, and featured educational and public outreach components.
The submersible next embarked on a NOAA Ocean Exploration cruise to the Galapagos area in mid-May, transiting east-northeast to study biological succession at hydrothermal vents along the Galapagos Rift near 86° W. Atlantis headed to the Costa Rica margin in early June for testing of instruments designed by Scripps investigators that measure elemental fluid flux from ocean floor boreholes. Later that month the ship and sub transited north to the Pacific Northwest's Juan de Fuca Ridge for continuation of 2004 non-Alvin research. These cruises included a second joint-funded NSF/NOAA ECOHAB cruise and a mooring recovery cruise to retrieve a prototype deep-water acoustically-linked seafloor observatory. A two-week maintenance period in August was followed by two Alvin cruises on the Juan de Fuca Ridge. These projects included the testing of sensors for in-situ analysis of ecosystems, chemistry of hydrothermal vents and retrieval of data from Integrated Ocean Drilling Program 2004 deployments. An ONR-funded Alvin engineering dive was included in the earlier of these cruises.
In late September Atlantis began transit back to Woods Hole, only the third time the ship had been in her home port since delivery in 1997! The final science leg of 2005 was for NOAA/NURP deep water coral investigations on the New England seamounts. Upon completion of that work, Alvin began a six-month scheduled major overhaul.
Alvin began 2006 with the last portion of the
major overhaul started in early November of 2005. Work was completed in mid-April, and the
last two weeks of the month were spent conducting test and certification
dives in deep water near Bermuda.Upon completion of the test period, Alvin
and Atlantis returned to their
primary research support mission. Atlantis transited to the Gulf of
Mexico for Alvin dives for a joint
NOAA Ocean Exploration, NOAA Undersea Research Project, and Mineral Management
Services program. In June the ship transited through the Panama Canal to the Pacific where Alvin
was used to recover instruments that measure fluid flux through sediments on the Costa Rican margin.
In July Alvin began a series of cruises along the California, Oregon, and Washington coasts. The first cruise was one of two that utilized Alvin to study metazoan life at extreme sulfide concentrations. The next program moved to abyssal depths to deploy an autonomous bottom-transecting instrument for making long time-series measurements. In mid-August Atlantis transited to the Juan de Fuca Ridge for an Alvin dive program to determine the limits to life in submarine hydrothermal systems and a program to develop “smart” sensors for in situ monitoring of hydrothermal fluids. A second Juan de Fuca Alvin dive program was conducted for remedial cementing at two borehole observatories. Atlantis then transited south for a second Alvin program to study metazoan life and a program characterizing the micro-organisms at methane seeps.
After a short maintenance period in San Diego in mid-October, Alvin began a series of cruises on the East Pacific Rise (EPR) with the first of two cruises that studied oceanographic and topographic influences on dispersal of hydrothermal vent species. In November Alvin continued a multidisciplinary time series study of temporal variations in hydrothermal fluid chemistry at the RIDGE2000 Integrated Studies Site at 9°N on the EPR. The year ended at the EPR with the second Alvin program to study dispersal of hydrothermal vent communities.
and Alvin began operating year
2007 at sea studying the dispersal of hydrothermal vent communities at the East
Pacific Rise (EPR). The educational and
outreach programs Dive and Discover and Women Exploring the Ocean were
featured on this cruise. Later in
January Alvin continued diving
operations at the EPR with a collaborative research project examining
biological community structure at deep-sea hydrothermal vents. This cruise included formal and informal education and outreach activities in collaboration
with NSF COSEE Centers and the Ridge 2000 education and outreach program.
Atlantis saw two non-Alvin voyages in February and March and then began a 62-day shipyard period. In late June, Alvin conducted three engineering dives off San Diego before continuing with science operations. The engineering dives were required both to ensure system operability due to the extended period (five months) of non-operability and to test new equipment and procedures such as an Imagenex sonar calibration routine. Alvin was utilized during the month of July to study the microbial geochemistry of natural marine gas seeps in the Catalina Channel. After another two non-Alvin legs, Atlantis transited to the Juan de Fuca (JdF) area in August, where Alvin operations continued in the main Endeavor Field looking at the thermal biology of hydrothermal vent paralvinellid worms and testing an underwater optical communication system. During September Atlantis and Alvin remained at JdF servicing borehole observatories and continuing the study of hydrothermal vent flow and turbulence. Atlantis then transited south for a short maintenance period in San Diego.
In mid-October Atlantis steamed south to the Guaymas Basin and EPR vent sites where Alvin was used to examine protistan abundance, diversity and activity and to study the physiology and molecular ecology of thermophilic nitrate-reducing microorganisms. Outreach programs such as Extreme 2000 and Student Experiments at Sea were supported during this cruise. Throughout November Alvin continued operations at the EPR studying oceanographic and topographic influences on dispersal of hydrothermal vent species. In December Alvin dove on the EPR looking at temporal variations in hydrothermal fluid chemistry. Alvin continued working at the EPR into early 2008, with a microbiological and biogeochemistry study of filamentous-sulfur producing bacteria scheduled. This final cruise of the year installed in-situ chemical sensors for monitoring the chemistry of hydrothermal vent fluids and supported the Dive and Discover education and outreach program.
To be continued!