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Submersible Alvin Reaches Another Milestone with Dive #4,000

April 16, 2004

Alvin, the nation’s only deep-diving research submersible capable of carrying humans to great depths to explore the sea floor, reached another milestone in its long career April 12 when the sub made its 4,000th dive.

The sub, which carries a pilot and two scientific observers to depths up to 4,500 meters (14,764 feet), made the historic dive as part of a month-long expedition off the coast of Mexico at a site known as 9 degrees North on the East Pacific Rise.   Scientists are studying unusual biological communities on the seafloor along the boundaries of the earth’s crustal plates at sites known as hydrothermal vents.   The communities were discovered in 1977 and have revolutionized thinking about life in the deep sea and on other planets.

Pilot Bruce Strickrott and scientists Timothy Shank of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Richard Lutz of Rutgers University were aboard the sub for the dive to 2,500 meters depth (8,200 feet).   Alvin and its support ship, the 274-foot Research Vessel Atlantis, departed Manzanillo, Mexico, April 6 and are due in port in San Diego, CA, April 30.

Alvin is one of only five deep-sea research submersibles in the world and is considered the most active, making an average of 175 dives per year.   It has been operated since1964 by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for the American ocean research community as part of the U.S. National Deep Submergence Facility, which includes the remotely operated vehicle Jason capable of reaching depths to 6,500 meters (21,320 feet) and other towed systems.   Scientists and students from colleges, universities and research organizations around the country utilize the facility for a variety of scientific and ocean engineering studies.

Alvin will celebrate the 40th anniversary of its christening June 5.   It is upgraded about every three years and only the name is now original. Dive #1,000 was made January 15, 1980, the actual 50th anniversary of the Institution’s founding. Dive #2,000 was made March 22,1988, and Dive #3,000 was made September 20, 1995.

WHOI is a private, independent marine research and engineering, and higher education 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 departments, interdisciplinary institutes and a marine policy center, and conducts a joint graduate education program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.