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

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

Revolutionary War-era shipwreck discovered off North Carolina coast

July 17, 2015

University scientists aboard WHOI research ship, Atlantis, find ship wreck off the coast of North Carolina.

Centuries-Old Shipwreck Discovered Off NC Coast

July 16, 2015

mentions AUV Sentry, HOV Alvin and WHOI

A University-Government Partnership for Oceanographic Research

July 14, 2015

article co-written by Deb Smith features  NDSF vehicles and WHOI research vessels

Famed submersible Alvin returns to WHOI

June 4, 2015

quotes Bruce Strickrott, Chris Lathan and Eric Benway