What does it take to explore the bottom of the ocean?
It takes a lot to study the world’s ocean—a lot of time and a lot of effort. But the payoffs are immeasurable. For that reason, the scientists and engineers at WHOI go to great lengths—or perhaps depths—to insure that the ocean bottom remains within reach of the scientific community.
For more than 45 years, WHOI has operated the deep-diving submersible Alvin for scientists who study the unique geology, chemistry, and biology of the ocean floor. Over its lifetime, Alvin has made more than 4,600 dives and given scientists from around the world a front-row seat on the forces that shape our planet and that contribute to life on Earth. In the process, it has aided in discoveries ranging from the existence of hydrothermal vents to the existence of life in the cold, sunless depths. Alvin has even helped survey the wreck of RMS Titanic and aided in the recovery of a wayward hydrogen bomb.
In all, Alvin’s record of achievement demonstrates that it takes a lot to get to the bottom of the ocean, but that the reward is well worth the effort.
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Alien? No. Earthling.
People tend to use the word “Earthling” to refer exclusively to humans. But we share this planet with a surprising abundance of non-human life. In fact, we make up only a tiny fraction of life on Earth—and, by the look of things, it's a rather mundane fraction at that.
Most of our planet is covered by a single ocean, but much of it is deep, dark, and unexplored. As a result, we are often surprised by what we find when we dive into the depths and turn on the lights. Many of the creatures we discover are surprisingly adapted to harsh conditions. Crushing pressure, perpetual darkness, corrosive chemicals, freezing (or boiling) temperatures—it’s just another place on Earth for something to call home.
Some scientists also now believe that the deep ocean, particularly regions around hydrothermal vents, mirror conditions early in Earth’s history. So when we turn on the lights, we may actually be shining a beam into the distant past and onto life’s earliest toehold on this planet.
Really makes you wonder what else is out there.
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What happens when oil and water mix?
The flow of oil may have stopped for now, but the questions continue. The short- and long-term effects of the oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico remains a complex and pressing problem. Generations of WHOI scientists have focused on studying the impacts of oil on the marine environment, giving the Institution the expertise and technology to help provide some of the best possible answers in the Gulf. What happens to oil and natural gas when they enter the ocean depends on a long list of variables-from how they move with winds, tides, and currents to how they react chemically in seawater and biologically with plants, animals and microbes.
Unraveling such complexity is part of our mission to better understand the global ocean. Now it's your turn to become a part of that mission of discovery by learning more about our one and only ocean. Read about mixing oil and water in an Oceanus magazine article, keep up with latest developments in the Gulf on our Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Response site, or browse our list of Ocean Topics. We only have one ocean, and our lives depend on it.
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