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Orpheus explores the ocean’s greatest depths

September 18, 2019

Orpheus, an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) developed by WHOI, begins its descent into Veatch Canyon on the continental shelf off of the U.S. Northeast during one of several dives from the R/V Neil Armstrong in September 2019.

Designed by WHOI lead engineer Casey Machado and WHOI deep-sea scientist Tim Shank in collaboration with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the AUV is a critical component of WHOI’s HADEX deep ocean exploration program.  The small, lightweight vehicle is the first in a new class of AUVs designed to withstand the pressure of the ocean’s greatest depths, while working independently or as a networked “fleet” to explore and conduct research in the deepest parts of our planet.

Data collected with Orpheus will enable greater understanding of the ocean’s hadal zone (20,000 to 36,000 feet deep) and usher in a new era of hadal research. This includes investigations into trench ecosystems, and novel adaptations that have evolved to sustain life under extreme pressures in the deepest regions of our ocean.

The program will also set the stage for exploration of other ocean worlds, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which are known to harbor liquid water oceans beneath a thick crust of ice.

Photo by Evan Kovacs, Marine Imaging Technologies, LLC / Courtesy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution