In order to understand the ocean, scientists often find they have to get themselves or their instruments into very specific parts of it. Traditionally, researchers have used ships to photograph the depths, to drop floats and drifters into the currents, and to collect samples of water, rock, and marine life.
In recent years, the spectrum of available observing tools has grown to include human-occupied submersibles, remote-controlled vehicles, autonomous, and towed robots.
Alvin is a 3-person research submarine that takes scientists deep into the ocean. Since its launch in 1964, the Alvin has taken more than 2,500 scientists, engineers and observers to visit the floor of the deep sea.
Jason is a remote-controlled, deep-diving vehicle that gives shipboard scientists real-time access to the sea floor. Scientists guide Jason as deep as 6,500 meters (4 miles) to explore underwater features on multi-day missions.
The autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Sentry is following in the wake of its predecessor, ABE, as a fully autonomous underwater vehicle capable of exploring the ocean down to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) depth. Sentry builds on ABE's success with improved speed, range, and maneuverability. Sentry's hydrodynamic shape also allows faster ascents and descents.
The Nereid UI system provides scientific access to under-ice and ice-margin environments that is presently impractical or infeasible.
The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER is a one-person human-occupied vehicle (HOV) that was built to descend to and explore the deepest places in the ocean. In March 2012, James Cameron used it to visit Challenger Deep. One year later, he transferred the vehicle to WHOI, forming a partnership to advance deep-ocean science and exploration.