HOV Alvin

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Alvin during its 2014 science verification cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. The submersible has safely transported over 2,500 researchers on more than 4,800 dives to depths of 14,764 feet (4,500 meters). (Photo by Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Human Occupied Vehicle (HOV) Alvin is part of the National Deep Submergence Facility (NDSF). Alvin enables in-situ data collection and observation by two scientists to depths reaching 4,500 meters, during dives lasting up to ten hours.

Commissioned in 1964 as one of the world’s first deep-ocean submersibles, Alvin has remained state-of-the-art as a result of numerous overhauls and upgrades made over its lifetime. The most recent, completed in 2013, saw the installation of a new, larger personnel sphere with a more ergonomic interior; improved visibility and overlapping fields of view; longer bottoms times; new lighting and high-definition imaging systems; improved sensors, data acquisition and download speed.  It also doubled the science basket payload, and improved the command-and-control system allowing greater speed, range and maneuverability.

With seven reversible thrusters, it can hover in the water, maneuver over rugged topography, or rest on the sea floor.  It can collect data throughout the water column, produce a variety of maps and perform photographic surveys.  Alvin also has two robotic arms that can manipulate instruments, obtain samples, and its basket can be reconfigured daily based on the needs of the upcoming dive.

Currently rated to 4,500m, which gives researchers in-person access to about 2/3 of the ocean floor, the most recent upgrade increased the depth rating of many of the vehicle’s systems, making it just steps away from having a depth rating of 6,500m, or approximately 98% of the seafloor.  Alvin is a proven and reliable platform capable of diving for up to 30 days in a row before requiring a single scheduled maintenance day.  Recent collaborations with autonomous vehicles such as Sentry have proven extremely beneficial, allowing PIs to visit promising sites to collect samples and data in person within hours of their being discovered, and UNOLs driven technological advances have improved the ability for scientific outreach and collaboration via telepresence

Alvin is named for Allyn Vine, a WHOI engineer and geophysicist who helped pioneer deep submergence research and technology.

Duke University Stories

August 2017

Two Duke Scientists Go To Sea with Alvin

For two weeks last summer, a pair of marine scientists joined the venerated submarine to explore the ocean shelf off Massachusetts

Journal of Ocean Technology

May 2017

The Deep Submergence Vehicle Alvin

An Advanced Platform for Direct Deep Sea Observation and Research

Oceanus Magazine

Rebuilding Alvin: Timothy Kling

April 9, 2013

Since the beginning of 2011, Alvin, the U.S. science community’s only human-occupied submersible dedicated to deep-sea research, has been undergoing…

Rebuilding Alvin: Will Sellers

April 2, 2013

Since the beginning of 2011, Alvin, the U.S. science community’s only human-occupied submersible dedicated to deep-sea research, has been undergoing…

Rebuilding Alvin: Ben Pietro

March 19, 2013

Since the beginning of 2011, Alvin, the U.S. science community’s only human-occupied submersible dedicated to deep-sea research, has been undergoing…

Rebuilding Alvin: Joe Harvey and Vic Miller

March 15, 2013

Since the beginning of 2011, Alvin, the U.S. science community’s only human-occupied submersible dedicated to deep-sea research, has been undergoing…

News Releases

WHOI to be Featured in Upcoming BBC Program ‘Blue Planet Live’

March 20, 2019

Scientists, engineers, vehicle operators, and ship crew from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) will be a featured part of the upcoming BBC program, Blue Planet Live, which will air over four nights beginning March 24. The series will include two live broadcasts from the research vessel Atlantis showing launch and recovery of the human-occupied submersible Alvin.

Alvin Submersible Makes 5,000th Dive

November 26, 2018

Alvin, the country’s only deep-diving research submersible capable of carrying humans to the sea floor, reached another milestone in its long career on Nov. 26, 2018, when the sub made its 5,000th dive during an expedition to the Guaymas Basin in the Gulf of California.

Research Submersible Alvin Completes Depth Certification to 4500 Meters

March 10, 2015

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) announces that the Human Occupied Vehicle (HOV) Alvin has achieved certification from the U. S. Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) for operations to its rated depth of 4,500 meters (approx. 2.8 miles).   Two dives were conducted in the waters off Arica, Chile, on January 26-27 from the research vessel Atlantis, demonstrating vehicle performance in accordance with the specified metrics required for certification.  NAVSEA representatives were on hand to monitor the process and participate in the dives. 

Iconic Research Submersible Alvin Turns 50

June 5, 2014

We know more about the surface of other planets than we do about Earth’s ocean. And what is known about…

WHOI in the News

Podcast: Using Philanthropy to Explore the World’s Oceans

October 11, 2018

Quotes Mark Abbott

Life Without Guts

November 14, 2017

Piece and accompanying video highlights the Alvin sub and the discovery of hydrothermal vent life

The Hunt for Undiscovered Drugs at the Bottom of the Sea

March 30, 2017

mentions HOV Alvin

OASIS Scientists Catch High-Tech Ride to the Bottom of the Sea

March 22, 2017

features OASIS Expedition mentions HOV Alvin, AUV Sentry and MISO TowCam