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New Generation Deep Ocean Vehicle Funded by $1 Million Keck Foundation Grant

February 18, 2000

A new generation remotely operated vehicle (ROV) capable of routine operation to depths of 6,500 meters (21,320 feet) and communicating its data back to shore via the Internet is under development at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), funded by a $1 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles, CA.

The $1 million grant from Keck, together with funds provided by the National Science Foundation and Office of Naval Research, will enable WHOI to design and construct JASON II and upgrade its companion systems, the imaging system ArgoII and the DSL-120 sonar system.  All three systems, designed and built by WHOI’s Deep Submergence Laboratory, are part of the U.S. National Deep Submergence Facility operated by WHOI for the U.S. ocean sciences community.  The facility, the only one in the nation, includes the three-person submersible ALVIN as well as the tethered vehicles and provides scientific access to the deep sea for researchers from many disciplines, including biology, geology, and chemistry.  The Keck funds will be used to purchase the new components of JASON II and will equip the ROV and other tethered systems with the SeaNet remote-data communication and visualization system to send images and data ashore via the Internet.

“The construction of the next generation of remotely operated vehicles designed for deep ocean exploration represents a revolutionary step forward in the ability to obtain and interpret data,” WHOI Director Robert B. Gagosian said in announcing the Keck award.  “Observation is the cornerstone of science, and we are confident that this new, innovative technology will allow researchers to answer many questions about our planet ocean that presently remain unanswered.”

The new vehicle, JASON II, will significantly expand the capabilities of the current ROV JASON, which is equipped with high quality still and video cameras, a manipulator arm for sampling, and other environmental sensors.  JASON has participated in dozens of varied and historic expeditions over the past ten years.

JASON has extensively explored and photographed deep-sea hydrothermal vents along the mid-ocean ridge, surveyed and imaged ancient shipwrecks, installed permanent ocean floor observatories, and advanced the field of deep sea forensics with detailed surveys of sunken commercial ships.  JASON II will expand many of the scientific programs in these and other areas, and will include many improvements over JASON, from increased power and sampling payload to the ability to send data ashore via the Internet.

Design of JASON II is based on input from the academic user community throughout the U.S. and is guided by WHOIs own engineering research and technology programs.  JASON will remain operational while the new vehicle is built and has cruises planned in the Eastern Pacific between Washington and Mexico, the North Atlantic Ocean, the Black Sea, and the Indian Ocean.  Completion of JASON II is expected in 2001.

The $2.5 million project to build JASON II and upgrade its companion vehicles will enable WHOI to enhance the manipulative, sampling, thrust and payload capabilities of JASON and enable major upgrades to the fiber optic telemetry, control and power systems of all the vehicles.  The funds will also enable the Institution to integrate existing vehicle data systems and control displays into a web-based system through the use of SeaNet.  SeaNet extends Internet capabilities to oceanographic research vessels using a variety of wireless communication links.

“JASON II represents a state-of-the-art facility enabling the advancement of earth and oceanographic sciences with a profound impact on how scientists access and study the planet, of which the oceans comprise 70 percent,” WHOI Associate Director for Marine Operations Richard Pittenger said.  ” Over the past five years ROVs and tethered vehicles have changed the paradigm of benthic research, providing major contributions to the understanding of deep-sea processes.  JASON II will contribute significantly to the complex science programs proposed for the next decade and provide a new scientific approach to the exploration of the deep sea.”

The flexibility and endurance of ROVs and tethered systems like Argo II and DSL-120 allow scientists to work in new ways and dramatically increase productivity.  They can remain on the ocean floor for days at a time, sending back images and data 24 hours a day to a team of researchers on the surface ship.  The SeaNet system allows the data collected to be distributed over the Internet, enabling scientists ashore to become involved in real-time analysis and decision-making about operations at sea hundreds or thousands of miles away.  These vehicles also  provide backup search and survey capability to the United States Navy in times of national need, and act as engineering research and development platforms for advances in control techniques and sensor technology being pursued at WHOI’s Deep Submergence Laboratory.

The W.M. Keck Foundation is one of the nation’s largest philanthropic organizations.  Established in 1954 by the late William Myron Keck, founder of The Superior Oil Company, the Foundation’s grantmaking is focused primarily on the areas of medical research, science, and engineering.  The Foundation also maintains a program for liberal arts colleges and a Southern California Grant Program that provides support in the areas of civic and community services, health care and hospitals, precollegiate education, and the arts.  In 1996, Robert A. Day succeeded his uncle, the late Howard B. Keck, as Chairman and President of the W. M. Keck Foundation.  Under Mr. Keck’s and Mr. Day’s leadership, the Foundation has made grants of over $875 million while its assets have grown from $250 million to over $1.5 billion today.

WHOI is a private, independent marine research and engineering organization located in Falmouth, MA.  Its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment.  Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, the Institution is organized into five academic departments, two interdisciplinary centers, and a joint graduate education program with MIT.



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Additional information about Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution can be found on the World Wide Web at: (general WHOI information) (WHOI ships/vehicles information)

About The W.M. Keck Foundation at: