Woods Hole deep sea sub gets makeover

An overhaul of the storied Woods Hole-based sub Alvin will let scientists descend four miles below sea level to explore the earth’s final frontier

The history (click year below)
  • 196262
  • 196666
  • 1968-6968
  • 197373
  • 197474
  • 197777
  • 197878
  • 198282
  • 198686
  • 1986-201086-10
  • 200707
  • 201313
Alvin submarine
1962. Alvin is born
The sub is named Alvin to honor Allyn Vine, the creative inspiration for the vehicle. He was a scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

In orange, the personnel steel sphere from where the crew drives the research submersible. It was built at Lukens Steel Co., Coatesville, Pennsylvania.
Alvin submarine
1966. Looking for bombs
The Navy uses Alvin to find a hydrogen bomb accidentally dropped in into the Mediterranean Sea. Alvin found it and was able to recover it, after two attempts (in the first one, the bomb skidded down a slope).

In the image, bombs recovered by Alvin after a B-52 bomber crash.
Alvin submarine
1968-1969. The longest dive
On October 16, 1968 two steel cables snap while Alvin was diving and it sinks 5,000 feet (the pilot and observers managed to stay safe). One year after that, Alvin is recovered with little structure damage.

In the image, the Aluminaut NURP. It helped Alvin to recover the bomb from the Mediterranean Sea and, three years after that, to recover Alvin itself.
Alvin submarine
1973. A new Alvin
The original steel personnel sphere is replaced by a titanium sphere and more flotation is added, in order to reach greater depths and baing able to dive to 10,000 feet against the previous 6,000.

In orange, the main changes.
Alvin submarine
1974. Mid-ocean ridges
Thanks to the new capabilities of Alvin with its renewal, the submarine participates in a project where scientists had their first chance to make first-hand observations of mid-ocean ridges.

In the image, Alvin handled a sample of lava in a more recent ocean-ridge investigation.
Alvin submarine
1977. Discovering new life forms
Alvin dives in the Galapagos Rift to explore seafloor vents and, amazingly, discover unexpected life forms surrounding these vents.
Alvin submarine
1978. One more arm for Alvin
To collect more rock and biological samples from hydrothermal vents off the Galapagos Islands, researchers add a second manipulator arm on the starboard side and a new sampling basket.
Alvin submarine
1982. Alvin gets a new T
A lifting "T" is added behind the sail for a new launch and recovery system. The sail color is changed from white to red-orange to spot Alvin more easily when it surfaces.
1986. Titanic
Alvin explores the wreckage of the RMS Titanic accompanied by a remotely operated vehicle to get photographic surveys and inspections. (Images from a more recent WHOI exploration)
Alvin submarine
1986-2010. A series of major improvements
Four aft thrusters replace stern propeller to increase the speed and maneauverability. The manipulator arm is upgraded to hydraulic power. More powerful batteries are installed. Video cameras and pan-and-tilt units are added.
Alvin submarine
2007. From depths to space
WHOI biologist Tim Shank, diving in Alvin, converses with NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who is orbiting Earth on the International Space Station.

Alvin reached a 2,700 m (1.68 miles) depth that day, and the ISS orbit is at an average of 256 miles from Earth.

In the image, Sunita Williams and Mike Lopez-Alegria, on the day they talked with Shank (and Martha Stewart).
Alvin submarine
2013. The last Alvin
A new and reinforced titanium sphere and a major improvement of imagery are the keys of the most recent changes to Alvin.
The submarine

SOURCE: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Javier Zarracina, Chiqui Esteban / Globe Staff