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

Journey to the Bottom of the Sea

October 4, 2018

My eyelids were tightly pressed down as I mustered all the tricks I could think of to get myself to…

The Discovery of Hydrothermal Vents

June 11, 2018

In 1977, WHOI scientists made a discovery that revolutionized our understanding of how and where life could exist on Earth and other planetary bodies.

Pop Goes the Seafloor Rock

June 20, 2017

WHOI scientists used the human-occupied submersible Alvin and the autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry to explore a surprising discovery: gas-filled volcanic rocks on the seafloor that “pop” when brought up to the surface.

Bringing a Lab to the Seafloor

December 24, 2014

Scientists can’t really know if new oceanographic instruments will really work until they try them in actual conditions in the real ocean. In this case, the rubber hit the road at the bottom of the sea.

News Releases

Deep-Diving Sub Alvin Cleared to Return to Service

January 24, 2014

After a three-year overhaul and major upgrade, the United States’ deepest-diving research submersible, Alvin, has been cleared to return to work exploring the ocean’s depths.

Newly Upgraded Alvin Sub Heads for West Coast

May 24, 2013

On Sat., May 25, 2013, the R/V Atlantis will leave Woods Hole carrying the newly upgraded submersible Alvin, marking a major milestone in the sub’s $41 million redesign.

Pressure Testing of New Alvin Personnel Sphere Successful

June 27, 2012

The human-occupied submersible Alvin reached a major milestone in its upgrade project on June 22 when its new titanium personnel…

WHOI Scientists Contribute to Study on Impact to Coral Communities from Deepwater Horizon Spill

March 26, 2012

Six scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have contributed to a new report finding “compelling evidence” that the Deepwater…

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