Alvin Upgrade Coming Along Swimmingly
Kyle Maxey posted on May 30, 2013 |
Retrofit of research sub demonstrates challenges of deep sea exploration 
alvin, sub, body, ocean, research, woods hole

Making its first dive in 1964 and still going strong, Alvin is the world’s longest-lasting deep sea sub, providing scientist and layman alike with stunning, and occasionally horrifying insights into the world of the deep ocean. Still, subs don’t last nearly half a century unless they’re constantly refitted and upgraded.

Over the course of the last fifty years, Alvin has seen six major upgrades, but its newest will extend its range to the very deepest parts of the ocean, allowing for unprecedented observation.

Funded by the National Science Foundation and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Alvin’s latest upgrade began in 2005 when a titanium sphere was forged by the Southwest Research Institute. The three-inch thick sphere, intended to carry Alvin’s crew, will allow 

scientists to reach a depth of 6,500 meters (21,000 feet) where the surrounding pressure reaches 10,000 psi. To give scientists a view of the ocean, the sphere has five viewports, each with overlapping fields of view. The sphere has also been expanded by 4.6 inches, upgrading the craft’s interior volume from 144 to 171 cubic feet.

alvin, sphere, retrofit, Another major upgrade was the introduction of a new syntactic foam that will provide additional buoyancy. Unlike other buoyant materials, syntactic foam was created to withstand the crushing forces of “deep marine exploration” without becoming compressed by exterior pressure.

In addition to these major upgrades, Alvin will also carry with a new lighting system to allow scientists to see out of the aforementioned portholes, a high-definition imaging system, and an improved command and control system.

The new upgrade is slated to begin testing in September when it will undergo the Navy certification process by completing a series of progressively deeper dives. Once the Navy gives the all clear, Alvin will undertake a “science verification cruise” in November with Alvin resuming its scientific duties in December.

Images Courtesy of WHOI

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