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Deeper-Diving Human Occupied Submersible to Replace Alvin

After 40 years of scientific research that led to the discovery of new life forms, helped confirm the theory of plate tectonics, and enthralled schoolchildren around the world with seafloor images and video, the research submersible Alvin will be replaced by a new, deeper-diving vehicle.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) will provide funding for the vehicle through a cooperative agreement with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). A 2004 National Research Council (NRC) report, Future Needs of Deep Submergence Science, recommended construction of a new, more capable HOV as part of a suite of tools for ocean research, which includes remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). The preliminary report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy also points to the importance of research and exploration of the deep seafloor, and to the excitement emanating from such missions to the depths of the ocean.

The replacement vehicle will be capable of reaching more than 99 percent of the seafloor to depths of 6,500 meters (21,320 feet) and conducting a broader range of research projects around the world. When completed in 2008, it will be the most capable deep-sea research vehicle in the world,Alvin, which has undergone nearly continuous upgrades since its launch in 1964, dives to 4,500 meters (14,764 feet).

The four-year design and construction project is expected to cost $21.6 million and will be funded largely by NSF. WHOI will operate the new sub as part of the National Deep Submergence Facility and will provide $2 million of its own funds for the project: $1 million for enhancements to the submersible’s imaging and lighting systems and other sensors, and $1 million toward operating costs for the first four years.

Alvin has helped discover more than 300 new animal species during the course of it’s service and is expected to be replaced sometime in 2008.

Cliff Etzel
Cliff Etzel
Cliff is the former Freediving editor of He is now a freelance journalist and film-maker.