Milestones:Alvin Deep-Sea Research Submersible, 1965-1984
- Date Dedicated
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- Woods Hole, MA
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Alvin Deep-Sea Research Submersible, 1965-1984
In 1965, the U.S. Navy commissioned the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s deep-sea submersible, Alvin. From 1974-84, Alvin’s engineers developed acoustical navigation (ALNAV), communications, photography, lighting, and life support systems specifically intended for the deepest oceans. It became one of the world’s most important deep-sea scientific instruments. Alvin discovered effects of pressure on seafloor microbes, and Alvin's study of hydrothermal vents revolutionized our understanding of life’s origins.
Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the Milestone Plaque Sites
86 Water St., Woods Hole, MA 02543; 41.5250 -70.6717 86 Water St., Woods Hole, MA 02543, U.S.A.; 41.5250 -70.6717
Details of the physical location of the plaque
The mounting with masonry bolts will be where a former fire call box was mounted outside Smith Laboratory on a brick wall at eye level. It is near the wooden welcome sign to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution with a map and other information.
How the intended plaque site is protected/secured
The plaque can be approached freely and touched but the night watchman and weekend guards can see and protect the plaque as they can do for the Smith Building plaque on the opposite wall that has stood for 50 years.
Historical significance of the work
Deep diving in human occupied submersibles has a history preceding Alvin. Notably, Trieste, a free-diving bathyscaph carried Jacques Piccard (Auguste Piccard was Trieste’s designer) and Don Walsh to the deepest spot in the ocean in 1960. Trieste and its successor Trieste II made scientific dives before ALVIN, six in 1956 and 17 in 1957. Other human occupied submersibles also preceded Alvin such as FNRS-3 with 57 scientific dives between 1953 and 1960. The French Navy’s second bathyscaph to FNRS-3, Archimede, made 121 scientific dives between 1962 and 1974. Nearly two dozen submersibles were in operation by the time ALVIN was commissioned in 1965, probably half involved in scientific research. Harold ‘Bud’ Froehlich from General Mills was sent by them to the Naval Electronics Lab to work with the Trieste team there to design a small submersible, Sea Pup, which became the starting point for Alvin when he and his division were sold to Litton Industries. Office of Naval Research (ONR) contracted with Litton for the submarine to be operated by WHOI. So Alvin entered the scene with a modest number of companions but it was still a relatively new field. And between Alvin’s launch in 1964 and 1969, there were numerous developments and improvements to Alvin as well as historically significant missions such as assistance in recovery of a lost Hydrogen Bomb off Spain in 1966 and discovery of evidence of hyperbaric influence on microbial activity in 1968-1969. But the decade, 1974-1984, encompasses the reactivation of Alvin’s oceanographic diving in a new titanium personnel sphere to replace the steel sphere recovered in 1969 after her accidental sinking in 1968; and her participation in exploration of hydrothermal vents, discovered a day before her historic dive by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s towed camera sled, ARGO, in 1977. Restricting the Milestone to two decades may seem somewhat artificial since Alvin is 57 years old and has had more than 5,000 dives, but innovative engineering developments during the decades to 1984 established Alvin as a heavily sought after scientific instrument, supported by ONR, NSF, and NOAA, for sea-floor discovery and exploration.
Alvin's significance to humanity was, and continues to be, far reaching and profound. It opened new avenues of research and discoveries in oceanography and evolutionary biology. This Milestone commemorates the decades of Alvin's engineering breakthroughs between 1965 and1984 that made these scientific discoveries possible.
This proposal will first describe the collection of engineering achievements and then the scientific discoveries made possible by these achievements.
Alvin’s Engineering Breakthroughs
A vehicle to explore the great depths of the world's oceans faced significant engineering challenges in navigation, data collection, and communications. In Alvin’s early years, military systems offered possible responses to some of these challenges. But they were either too costly, too cumbersome, or too secret to incorporate into a vehicle intended for the wider scientific community. But for other deep sea challenges technological responses had yet to appear. As a result, teams of engineers associated with Alvin pioneered improvements to Alvin that increased the capabilities of Alvin’s scientific mission. New technologies needed to deal with undersea navigation led to the ALNAV acoustic positioning system; special high-resolution color digital cameras and special lighting for observing the undersea world required the miniature three-color CCD camera supplied by RCA for installation on the mechanical arm of ALVIN and high intensity quartz iodide and later more energy efficient LED lights; joystick controlled servo-mechanical manipulators for gathering samples; and many essential though not strictly electronic but important innovations that the Alvin as a system required such as new, clear plastic optical windows able to resist huge pressures; and hull materials beginning with massive welded HY-100 steel and subsequently titanium hemispheres to permit accessing the final design depth of Alvin. Support of scientific objectives was essential to its success and scientists' requests for innovative samplers and improved observational capabilities ensured that Alvin was at the cutting edge of deep sea exploration. Many of these enhancements were electrical or mechanical engineering projects engaging the pilots of Alvin who incorporated them during periodic overhauls or between research cruises.
Alvin also served as an experimental platform for prototype equipment before it became standard commercial off the shelf (COTS) as the RCA three-color CCD camera became.
1) New technologies to deal with undersea navigation
One of the developments leading to more general underwater navigation was the acoustic ALNAV array of transponders that permitted a surface ship to know Alvin's location. [Hunt, M.M., Marquet, W.M., Moller, D.A., Peal, K.R., Smith, W.K. and Spindel, R.C. (1974). “An acoustic navigation system”. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Technical Report WHOI- 74-6]. Acoustic transponders were dropped in an array and navigated in by the surface vessel. Subsequently, the location of Alvin in the array was determined by an acoustic ping from the surface ship and arrival times of that ping and the replies from the bottom mounted transponders. This information was also available to the surface ship when the source of the interrogating ping was the submersible. (The surface ship is rarely more than a few miles away during an Alvin dive.) The ALNAV system has been copied for Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) navigation and is called a long baseline navigation system to distinguish it from a more recent short-baseline acoustic navigation system, useful for unoccupied vehicles where the receivers are on the surface ship and the transponder is on the submersible. The requirements of accurate positioning require survey techniques that separate differences in depth of transponders on the bottom and variations in speed of sound profiles in the water. The processing of these time differences from the transponders had to be done initially with calculators. The elements of the ALNAV system included a timing control unit, mathematical analysis of the acoustic path lengths, and statistical analysis of the survey problem. Two-dimensional tracking of drifting sound sources had been done previously in the 1950s but adding the third dimension presented new difficulties. Three-dimensional positioning had been done with the Missile Impact Location System (MILS) using the SOFAR channel to pinpoint distant sources. A system from APL University of Washington used an array of four hydrophones to track a vehicle at short ranges. Both of these systems were coupled to shore for control and signal processing. Three autonomous systems not requiring shore support were built starting with ALNAV (ALvin NAVigation) and including ANGUS (Acoustically Navigated Geological Underwater System), and ANBUS (Acoustically Navigated Buoy Underwater System). The acoustic parts of these systems are essentially identical.
2) Special high-resolution color digital cameras, special lighting for observing the undersea world
Technical developments were required by observational needs such as trim and ballast tanks, and manipulators, subsequently copied on other submersibles, and a high resolution color digital camera (1979). Video camera development in the 1970s had transitioned from vidicon tubes to solid state CCD sensors but for color cameras they were bulky and their use was limited to overall scenes and locating experiments in the context of their surroundings. Preparatory to a mission to the newly discovered hydrothermal vent near the Galapagos Islands, a miniature version of the novel three-color CCD color camera was implemented in 1979 by RCA in a titanium case small enough to be mounted on one of ALVIN’s arms. Since this was a prototype camera as well as an underwater version of it, an RCA engineer accompanied the new camera to its mission to the Galapagos hydrothermal vents. The result was a collection of superb photographs of giant tube worms and other vent organisms used in a National Geographic TV video documentary, “Dive to the Edge of Creation” "  [R.L. Rodgers, III (1979). “Development and application of a prototype CCD color television camera”. RCA Engineer 25-1 June/July 1979, pp. 42-44.].
This camera development for Alvin is an example of how new capabilities were provided. Brett Freiburg, WHOI archivist, collected seven documents from 1978 archives bearing on the RCA camera. In the Alvin 1978 summary, "While revisiting the Deep Ocean Biology Station in Tongue of the Ocean, initial tests were conducted with a new underwater color TV camera developed for Alvin by RCA, National Geographic and Benthos [a Falmouth, MA ocean equipment company]."
An email memo from Dave Hosom, 16 June 1978, "Alvin/National Geographic Society/RCA/Benthos Color T.V. System", was a task list and block diagram sketch. It went to all parties - Alvin Group, Benthos, National Geographic. Twenty-nine tasks were assigned by party, date due, and financial commitment.
Another email from Hosom, September 13, 1978, "National Geographic CCD Color T.V.", reported a meting held September 11, 1978 at Benthos on the progress of the color T.V. system. It went to parties at Benthos, RCA, National Geographic, and WHOI. It covered Camera Layout and Mechanical Interface, Lens and Motor Drive, Monitors, Color T.V. Tape, Internal Electronics, Power Supplies, Cable and Connectors, Pool Tests, RCA Quote.
The next email from J. Donnelly, November 1, 1978, "Planning for Grassle Dives 8-13 Nov. 78", spelled out RCA plans to install and check out the new color video system and National Geographic plans to make tests and observations with the video and acoustic recording systems. It included a detailed daily schedule from Monday 6 Nov. through Monday 13 Nov.
On Nov. 2, 1978, Jack Donnelly sent an email to R.P. Dinsmore, "R/V LULU Voyage 102-3", specifying the LULU crew, Alvin crew, Science Party, and Science Party ashore. Ashore included Fred Ingle - Engineer - RCA.
Email from Dave Hosom, Nov. 22, "National Geographic/ALVIN Color T.V. Camera Cable". This email described difficulties with the CCD T.V. camera cable during the test period in the Bahamas during the week of 6 Nov. 1978. Water penetrated the connector interface and caused the power pins to burn away. The source of the leak was not discovered but the leak didn't return and periodic monitoring was to be required.
The final 1978 email is from Dave Hosom to Bill Page, "Alvin/National Geographic Battery System". This memo plus circuit diagram shows the wiring from the external separate batteries for the seven 750W lights with light contactors and fuses and the location and weight of these parts on Lulu, Alvin's tender.
So far no archived 1979 emails have been forwarded from the archivist but from personal experience I confirm the CCD RCA T.V. Camera System worked during the Galapagos Hydrothermal Vent Cruise in February 1979. The results can be seen in the T.V. National Geographic "Dive to the Edge of Creation". I was there.
Cameras outside Alvin have been given more jobs as the technology improved. The miniature video camera allowed close ups of organisms and geologic formations to be observed. Other cameras permitted Alvin itself to be photographed from a remote installation on the seafloor nearby. Adjusting buoyancy with ballast and trim tanks operated by pumps permitted the pilots to ballast Alvin slightly buoyant when reaching the bottom in a survey region so that the vertical thrusters could be sending propeller wash upwards to keep the bottom clear for better viewing and photography.
3) Optical innovations and windows
Optical signals have been used for data transmission over modest ranges where Alvin can interrogate a logging device on the seafloor and obtain large volumes of data in a brief interval due to the high bandwidth of optical signals. This is an area of active research. More significantly, direct viewing remains an important observational tool in Alvin and photography from inside the sphere is important. Flat Plexiglas windows with conical seats in the hull were incorporated in the original steel hull of Alvin. These were copied in the second hull although this hull was made of titanium. In the third personnel sphere of Alvin, hemispherical acrylic windows were designed to provide greater strength and wider field of view than the earlier flat windows.
Power, always a concern for mission duration, benefited from quartz iodide and later LED lighting and improved placement of light sources for photography. Some of the best photographs were obtained with external video cameras but there were also observers with cameras inside Alvin looking out through Plexiglas windows. These windows were critical for observation by the pilots but also presented risk. After a swordfish rammed a window at depth, with its sword becoming stuck in the gap between the hull and a section of syntactic foam used for buoyancy, a risk assessment experiment was conducted by one of the Alvin engineers. He used frozen swordfish swords fired from a cannon to impact Plexiglas windows in order to study the sword failure with high speed video photographs. It was determined that there was little danger from swordfish attacks because of the way the window was put into compression by the conical seat and high external pressure. So far, only two such attacks have occurred and on one occasion the swordfish that was stuck to Alvin was brought up and enjoyed by the crew at supper.
4) Electrical and fiber optic penetrators through the hull
High-pressure electrical and fiber-optic connectors and cable are required on Alvin and particularly with human life at risk have been optimized with a large margin of safety. Most of the cables outside the personnel sphere are in pressure-exposed oil filled conduit with only the penetrators around the viewing ports being pressure resisting connections. High-pressure connectors are commercially available but those that are also waterproof have been less reliable. The solution has been to encapsulate the wires and penetrators in oil so that simple high-pressure connectors can be used and the Alvin system separates the water proofing (using oil filled tubes at ambient pressure) from the penetration of electrical signals through the housing. Connections outside the housing are common commercial electrical connectors simply exposed to oil. The connection panels are boxes filled with oil and covered with a transparent flexible lid.
5) New electro-mechanical manipulators for gathering samples
Sampling devices used with manipulators allowed collection of bottom mud and fauna into thermally insulated and even pressure sealed containers for recovery to the surface for cold, hyperbaric studies of the unusual life forms found at hydrothermal vents. One manipulator had rotation around the wrist joint as well as the elbow, hand, and shoulder joints of each arm. These had originally been controlled with on-off switches but proportional joystick control made them more sensitive and useful and the electric controls exercised by the pilots provided capabilities that benefited the scientific endeavors. While recovery of samples for analysis on the surface was the principal purpose of the manipulators, in situ experiments were made possible with precise emplacement of trays containing organisms or places where deep-sea organisms might colonize the mud in the trays. Some trays were brought down in Alvin’s basket but some were dropped with a relocation transponder that Alvin could visit and unpack and place for later acoustically-triggered recovery by a surface ship. These were elevator deployments allowing scheduled recoveries when Alvin was elsewhere but another ship was available. Precise sampling benefited from improved manipulators, two being more useful than a single manipulator.
6) Other crucial innovations
Engineering design of the hull and the windows was a critical task, particularly of interest to the Navy needing to better understand titanium and Plexiglas as structural materials under high pressure. The first pressure sphere was HY-100 steel and welding the two hemispheres together was an important innovation with little to guide the fabricators. Hulls two and three were made of titanium and also were innovative. Hull three is slightly larger and thicker and has five instead of four Plexiglas windows of a new hemispherical design, giving better visibility for each observer and full overlap of field of view in front for better maneuvering. Syntactic foam flotation is necessary to overcome the weight of the lead acid batteries and the behavior of this syntactic foam is always of some concern. At overhauls, each block of foam is weighed and blocks gaining excessive weight are retired. The many cycles of pressure from the Alvin dives set a stringent requirement on the foam. For a number of years only blocks of foam measuring ½’x1’x2’ were reliable, larger blocks having experienced thermal stress during setup. Blocks were epoxied together as required to obtain the shapes and buoyancy needed and machined after assembly into larger pieces.
Electrical cabling and interconnections were inside oil filled hoses and boxes at ambient pressure but for safety had to be able to be disconnected from the personnel sphere in case Alvin became terminally stuck. Safety was and is always a high priority with several levels of escape available to the pilots. Dropping the batteries is first option, dropping one or both manipulators is next, and finally release of the personnel sphere from the body is third resulting, it is thought, in a wild ride to the surface. But it is essential that there be no inadvertent connection to the sphere that might compromise this final escape. Alvin has temporarily been stuck but never for more than a few hours where careful backing and rotation allowed retreat from the overhang under which Alvin was caught. The failure of the lifting cable that caused Alvin to spend almost a year on the bottom was a failure of systems of oversight and security that changed the approach to running Alvin from an adventure to a serious scientific and maritime endeavor. Each of these electronic and mechanical developments might have been undertaken at some point without Alvin; however, the demand of Alvin created a stimulus for the development to the benefit of other human occupied submersibles.
8) Current Alvin developments - 2020
In April 2020 Alvin was taken out of service and returned to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for a major overhaul and upgrade. The depth rating of several grandfathered systems has prevented Alvin from achieving its designed depth limit and these are being upgraded to remove this restriction. The overhaul will be completed in May 2021 and Alvin with its new depth rating will be certified in a series of tests before returning to active service. During the final days of the pre-certification on shore, it is hoped that the installation of the Alvin Milestone will take place at Woods Hole with a celebration in its recognition. Attendees of the event will be able to at least see Alvin up close before it leaves on its trials and then goes into active service again.
The Scientific and Social Significance
Scientific discoveries resulted from direct observations of the seafloor by observers inside ALVIN. Underwater, deep-sea instrumentation must resist wetness and high pressure. Since people are inside, life support must also be provided. For research and exploration, mobility, manipulation, and sensing capability are required and provision of these last three were, and still are, what has made Alvin successful.
1) Hydrothermal vents
Hydrothermal vents were perhaps Alvin’s greatest scientific exploration (1977, 1979). The existence of these vents opened up new and large areas of biological and geological scientific study which continue to this day. Hydrothermal vent communities of organisms not supported by photosynthesis could possibly be the origin of life on earth or even in the solar system. Science of these vent communities made possible by Alvin’s capabilities has increased human understanding of alternate life chemistries [Corliss, J.B., Baross, J.A., Hoffman, F.E. (1981), “An hypothesis concerning the relationship between submarine hot springs and the origin of life on earth.” Oceanologica Acta 4, pp. 56-69.] [Nisbet, E.G. (1985). “The geological setting of the earliest life forms.” J. of Molecular Evolution 21, pp. 289-298.]
2) Hyperbaric microbiology
The discovery of hyperbaric microbiology resulted from a serendipitous accident (1968). The accident was the sinking (with no loss of life) of Alvin when a cable parted during a short transit to a new dive location with the crew and their box lunches aboard. Scrambling out against the surge of flooding water through the open hatch, the three crew members escaped but the box lunches went down with the vehicle and sat on the bottom, bathed in highly pressurized ocean surface water for almost a year. When recovered, the lunches were essentially intact with soup, bologna in the sandwiches, and apples undecayed (1969). Placed in a laboratory refrigerator at the seafloor temperature, decay proceeded at the rapid and expected rate so it wasn’t the temperature that had preserved the lunches, but the pressure, and this led to a study of the effects of pressure on certain bacterial processes. Subsequent to the recovery and restitution of Alvin, deep-sea microbiological studies performed in situ showed that microbial action proceeded at rates comparable to those at the surface at the deep-sea temperature when inoculated with deep-sea bacteria adapted to this high-pressure environment. This started the field of hyperbaric microbiology. These studies have continued through the second Milestone decade 1974-1984.
3) Other seafloor and deep-sea water column discoveries
Before the Alvin there were only highly localized observations of the deep-ocean seafloor but Alvin permitted seafloor experiments to be deployed and visited, not possible before Alvin. The success of Alvin soon resulted in peer reviewed journal papers (see peer reviewed papers in the bibliography references 13 to 26). This success encouraged other human occupied deep- ocean submersibles to be designed and built. Surprises resulted from Alvins direct observation of organisms on the seafloor and even in the water column during descent to the bottom. Apparent sensors of light in a blind shrimp found on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge gave rise to questions about colonization of new vents, perhaps facilitated by nearly invisible radiation. Cerenkov blue-green light from radioactive components of vent fluid possibly guide the shrimp to a new vent when their home vent goes dark. Hot vents, above 350 degrees Fahrenheit, also emit infrared radiation that the shrimp may sense to avoid being cooked yet permit them to approach close enough so that the bacteria, converting hydrogen sulfide to nutrients available to animals, can be collected. Tall worm-like organisms have no mouths but incorporate an organ containing bacteria that make the conversion of hydrogen sulfide and other vent fluid mineral components into animal nutrients inside their tall bodies.
4) Geopolitical Impact
Recovery by Alvin of a hydrogen bomb accidentally dropped into the Mediterranean Sea had a dramatic benefit to humanity. One of the four thermonuclear bombs falling from a US bomber during a mid-air collision on January 17, 1966 missed Spain and fell into the sea. Alvin was dispatched to locate it in the absence of other capable search and rescue submersibles. Alvin found the bomb but attempts to net it from a surface vessel dislodged it, and the bomb rolled down a steep slope and was lost again. However, Alvin found it again and at risk to its own safety pulled the net lowered from the surface over the bomb, aiding its recovery, and avoiding an international incident.
As a research tool, principally financed by the US Navy, there is a delicate balance between responsiveness to the Navy’s interests and those of research scientists. The recovery of the H- bomb in Spanish waters provided Alvin visibility in Navy circles helping to insure continued funding. But scientific discoveries ultimately won Alvin success and this depended on its ability to provide the scientists what they needed for their own success. Several of these were engineering breakthroughs.
5) Navy Mission vs. Ocean Science
Naomi Oreskes in her 2021 book "Science on a Mission", University of Chicago Press, has explored the transformation of Alvin from an instrument built for Navy needs to one available for scientific studies. From 1965 until 1967 funding for operations from ONR limited scientific uses to periods when there were no Navy missions being pursued. In 1968 the Navy commissioned Dolphin, a diesel-electric research submarine capable of operating at depths of 4000 feet, removing the unique capability that Alvin had provided so ONR stopped block funding Alvin. And unfortunately in 1968 Alvin sank putting its service for Navy missions on hold.
After Alvin was raised and rebuilt by 1974, its funding source was transferred to NSF, NOAA, and CNEXO for project FAMOUS, the French-American Mid-Ocean Undersea Study, an important step towards development of plate tectonics. And Alvin's financial crisis was ended by making Alvin a UNOLS (University National Oceanographic Laboratory System) facility with agreement between NSF, ONR, and NOAA to provide continued support. Then science replaced the Navy mission.
Features that set this work apart from similar achievements
As a scientific tool, Alvin has an operational capability that exceeded other, contemporary submersibles. There was a close coupling between the engineers and scientists to maximize the discoveries possible. The discovery of living communities of animals at deep, dark, cold hydrothermal vents followed by the discovery of very hot hydrothermal smokers with their own communities revealed a life system powered by chemical systems rather than photosynthesis. This last realization, based upon Alvin observations, has led to a belief among many that life on earth may have started at hydrothermal vents and perhaps may have done so on other planets or moons of the solar system.
Availability of Alvin to scientists from other research institutions through UNOLS (University and National Oceanographic Laboratory Systems) scheduling has permitted observational and experimental work to be done by the best in the world. Maturity of the operations of Alvin means that the number of dive days per year exceeds other deep diving research submersibles.
Bibliography of references about Alvin or about events leading to or resulting from the development of Alvin. First from sources not peer reviewed (1-12) followed by peer reviewed journal citations (13-38).
1) "Six minutes after one o'clock on the afternoon of January 23, 1960, the refurbished Trieste [August Piccard's Bathyscaph] descended to the deepest known spot on earth, a mammoth gash in the floor of the Pacific about 200 miles southwest of Guam. Piccard and U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh dropped 35,800 feet, nearly seven miles, to the floor of the Mariana Trench". Water baby: the story of Alvin, Victoria A. Kaharl, Oxford University Press, 1990. p 15.
2) "On June 5, 1964, several hundred people sat on the Laboratory of Oceanography [Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution] rooftop, hung out windows, and crammed into the WHOI parking lot before the world's first deep-diving submarine. On its glistening white fiberglass skins was written: 'BUILT BY LITTON' and 'RESEARCH SUBMARINE' and 'ALVIN.'" p 46, ibid.
3) "It was March 24 .’Tonight,' a New York Times reporter wrote, ' shrouded in the grayish parachute that clings to it tightly as a wet dress clings to a women, the bomb [unarmed H-bomb dropped during a midair collision over Spain] still lay on the side of a steep slope...as submariners gently tried once more to clamp a line around it.'" p 78. "At 7 A.M. April 7, Alvin hovered at a safe depth of 1925 feet and the topside winches started to turn. In an hour the whole sassy package was at the surface - CURV [Cable Controlled Underwater Research Vehicle], the parachute and Nuke 4, only slightly dented from its 30,000-foot plummet through the sky. It was over." p 79, ibid.
4) "At 9 o'clock in the morning on October 16 , RV Gosnold escorted RV Lulu to the bright red Buoy Alpha. The weather was fair for Alvin's 307th dive." ... "[Paul] Stimpson and Roger Weaver, a pilot in training, climbed into the sub. Pilot Ed Bland took his place in the sail and watched the line handlers pay out rope as he backed out Alvin from between the pontoons [of Lulu]. Bland ducked inside, shut the hatch, and the sub dropped through the frothing bubbles at the surface." ... "They were down only about 15 minutes when they discovered a short circuit in an outside camera, and surfaced. The repairs didn't take long." ... "'Prepare to launch,' Rainnie repeated from the bridge." ... "Broderson placed a ladder back into the passenger sphere for Stimpson and Weaver. The ladder came out and Bland got back into the sail. As Lulu's master held the catamaran in position against a 15-knot wind, the cradle rose and the chocks Alvin perched on were removed. Broderson looked to the line handlers for a nod. From the sail, Bland did the same and then signaled to start lowering the cradle." ... "The cradle dropped a foot, seven more feet to go, and suddenly Alvin's nose pitched down and Rainnie saw the wispy tuft of Bland's white hair disappear into the sea." p 114. ... "Bland, still straddling the open hatch, gulped for air as the buoyant submarine bobbed back to the surface." ... "Water poured into the submarine, taking away all that buoyancy. Got to get out." p 115. ... "It took about 60 seconds from the time of the first cable parting to the sinking of the submarine. The three men escaped with only bruises and scrapes." ... "In 5000 feet of water, the sonar at the surface probably would not see the articles [thrown over as targets]. Even Alvin might be missed." ... "Luckily Buoy Alpha was there to mark the spot." p 116. ... "On August 27 , they went out again.” ... “McCamis said he grabbed the controls and drove Aluminaut [the rescue submersible that WHOI had chartered] up onto Alvin so Canary [the Aluminaut regular pilot] could insert the toggle bar [at the end of the 7000 foot line lowered by Mizar into Alvin's open hatch].” ... “Mizar's winch turned and Alvin rose.” ... “Slowly Mizar towed the submerged Alvin to Menemsha Bight off Martha's Vineyard.” ... “Alvin broke the surface on September 1, 1969. Bobby Weeks jumped in with the end of a hose to pump the water from the passenger sphere. Something was in the way. A jacket floated out of the sail. Weeks tossed it onto the barge. The lunch bag floated out. He threw that too and pushed in the hose. With the water out, Alvin was lifted onto the barge and was doused with fresh water.” ... “[At the WHOI dock] the biologist Howard Sanders walked among the scattered debris shaking his head. What a sorry sight. 'Hey, Howard, look at this'. Winget held up a baloney sandwich which he had taken from the bag Weeks had tossed onto the barge. 'Looks good enough to eat, doesn't it?' said Winget. 'How's it taste?' . 'Salty but still tastes like baloney'. Surely, Sanders thought, Winget was joking. The engineer swore he wasn't; he showed Sanders the other sandwiches and the three apples; all looked fresh. But how could that be after being at the bottom of the ocean for ten months? Sanders took the lunches back to his laboratory and called WHOI's senior microbiologist, [Holger Jannasch].” p 123, 124, ibid.
5) “The incredibly fresh-looking sandwiches and apples that Howard Sanders carried to his laboratory attracted much attention. The microbiologists could not explain how after ten months at the bottom of the sea the lunches could still look fresh and, in fact, be fresh, untouched by decay. Could it be? No. Perhaps, someone suggested, the food had sat in a pool of battery acid. The scientists photographed, poked and prodded the three waterlogged apples and three baloney and mayonnaise sandwiches. The apples tasted like apple, even smelled like apple. The concentration of enzymes in the fruit was equivalent to that of fresh apples. The baloney was still pink. Seawater had seeped into the crushed thermos bottle of bouillon but still tasted like perfectly good broth. The usual amount of bacteria was present in all the food. Another puzzle was the healthy state of the bacteria. Like most life, bacteria brought up from the deep ocean were usually dead at the surface from the drastic pressure and temperature changes. In the zippered lunch bag, the food had been protected from scavengers, preserved by a combination of high pressure and cold temperature. In the biologists’ refrigerator, all the food spoiled in a few days. Alvin’s misfortune immediately sparked a new field of study. … WHOI’s microbiologists tried to duplicate the unintentional experiment. They packed the essence of the same lunch … fastened the abbreviated lunch packs onto the lines of moorings used by the physical oceanographers for other experiments. When the organic material was retrieved with the buoys several months later, it was in excellent condition, proving that the preserved state of the Alvin lunches was no fluke. The metabolism of the bacteria was as much as a hundred times slower in the deep sea. ’The implications of the Alvin lunch experiment are obvious,’ microbiologists Holger Jannasch and Carl Wirsen wrote. ‘The deep sea is not a suitable environment for dumping organic wastes.’” p 135, 136, ibid.
6) “[Bob] Ballard made his first Alvin dive in July 1971 and by the end of the 1972 season, he had made twenty-three more, holding the record for the scientist with the most Alvin dives. The Gulf of Maine dives were part of Ballard’s [PhD] thesis research on plate tectonics, the theory that the continents ride on slow-moving blocks of the earth’s crust. … If the two plates in the North Atlantic separated, Ballard reasoned, there should be evidence of it in the continental shelves. At about the time the continents were thought to have pulled apart in the North Atlantic, a structural rock formation unique to the separated plates developed. The formation called the Newark System had formed in the Appalachian Mountains. Ballard did find pieces of the Newark System, rocks that could not have been found blindly with a dredge from a ship, because these were lying beneath other kinds of rocks.” p140, 141, ibid.
7) “On June 6, , WHOI’s new ship RV Knorr, which carried Alvin and towed Lulu, headed for the Azores [to join the FAMOUS expedition at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge]. … Knorr carried a full twenty-four-person complement of scientists, graduate students, technicians, and two members of the press … to document the first human probe to an underwater seam of the planet.” p 156, ibid.
8) “In February 1977, some fifty scientists and technicians from Oregon, Massachusetts, California and Texas boarded Lulu and her escort Knorr and headed to the [Galapagos hydrothermal vent site]. … Also on the Galapagos expedition were three National Geographic photographers. … What interested the geologists [viewing the towed ANGUS recordings from the site] was the tiny temperature spike, so van Andel and Corliss headed for the Clambake on the first [Alvin] dive. … Within about fifteen minutes of touchdown at about 8000 feet, the sensor beeped and flashing red numbers indicated a hundredth of a degree rise in temperature. Suddenly Alvin was surrounded by life. There were huge clamshells, stark white against the black elephant-skin basalt; brown mussels; a big bright red shrimp; a couple of white crabs scampering over the basalt; white squat lobsters; a brittlestar; a large pale anemone.” p 171-173, ibid.
9) “The morning of July 9, 1986, sailing day they tried once more [to operate JJ (Jason Junior, an ROV) attached to Alvin] off the dock. The engineers stared hopefully into the water as Alvin carrying JJ and Von Alt [JJ’s designer], disappeared. Nearby, Ballard told reporters about his plans for going down the grand staircase [of Titanic]. Finally Alvin’s sail broke the surface. … Can we go?’ Ballard asked. ’Yes,’ Von Alt said. … In three and a half days the AII [Atlantis II, now Alvin’s tender] reached the Titanic site. … Ballard descended with the most experienced pilots, Dudley Foster and Ralph Hollis, to get the lay of the land and assess the dangers. … The first direct glimpse of the Titanic was brief, perhaps two minutes’ worth. Hollis quickly backed Alvin away from the swirling sediment, and reasoning it was unwise to wait for the water to clear, headed for the surface.” p 287, 289, ibid.
10) “This year  marks the 50th anniversary of two of America’s most iconic, cutting edge vehicles: the Ford Mustang and another vehicle that was hardly sleek or stylish and didn’t have a bold, jazzy name. Three years after President John F. Kennedy committed the nation to the goal of ‘landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth’ – and five years before we did so – a stubby white submersible was built with the goal of taking people to the bottom of the ocean and returning them safely to the surface: Alvin.” “The Once and Future Alvin, at 50 years old, the sub is reborn,” K. Madin and L. Lippsett, Oceanus Vol 51 Summer 2014. p 2 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA.
11) “One unforeseen outcome of Alvin’s ten-month immersion [1968-1969] sent ripples through the ocean science community. Lunchbags abandoned at the sinking were still in the sphere. After nearly a year in seawater 5,000 feet deep, the bologna sandwiches were sodden and the apples wet. But they were not decayed. WHOI microbiologist Holger Jannasch wasn’t too surprised; he had expected decomposition to be slow at cold temperatures in the deep sea. ‘It was not the well-preserved quality of the foodstuffs that startled us,’ he wrote, ‘but the utterly simple means of overcoming the decompression problem, used in this involuntary experiment.’ The decompression problem was this: When scientists brought bacteria adapted to the high pressure of the deep ocean back to the surface, the rapid decompression killed the very microbes the scientists wanted to study. Suddenly, Jannasch saw that instead of bringing the microbes up, they could do experiments in situ in the deep sea-by putting culture media in sample containers on the seafloor and allowing in seawater with ambient bacteria that would grow there. This insight ‘broke a roadblock,’ he said, and led to new experiments, new sampling and culturing instruments, and a blossoming of deep-sea microbiology that has yielded unfathomed biochemical discoveries, some with commercial and pharmaceutical applications.” p 5, ibid.
12) “Since its birth in 1964, the deep-sea research submersible Alvin has been brought in every few years for overhauls. Most were routine maintenance – the submarine equivalent of a 30,000-mile service on your car. ’You have to take the vehicle completely apart to check the structural integrity of the sphere, frame, and other components,’ said Anthony Tarantino, a former Alvin pilot. ‘But you only make minor changes and usually put it back together, configured in very much the same way.’ Some overhauls were more substantial, incorporating new technology and improvements. Alvin evolved. The original steel personnel sphere was replaced in 1973 with a titanium one that allowed Alvin to reach depths of 4,500 meters (2.8 miles). Along the way, a second manipulator arm and video cameras were added. Thrusters replaced a stern propeller to increase speed and maneuverability. Alvin’s white sail became red-orange to make it easier to spot when it surfaced. As a result, the original sub that was christened a half-century ago looked very different from the one that investigated impacts from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in December 2010. After that mission, Alvin was brought to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) for a scheduled overhaul. But this overhaul was nothing like all the rest. The sub that engineers at WHOI began to disassemble in 2010 bore the same name as the one that was loaded on board the research vessel Atlantis in May 2013. But so does a 2014 Cadillac and the one your grandfather owned. This new Alvin has about 70 percent new components,’ said Pat Hickey, who headed the Alvin Operations Group during the overhaul project. ‘We basically redesigned and rebuilt the entire vehicle.’ How that happened is a tale that began in the mid-1990s, when the community of ocean scientists first began contemplating what the future of deep-sea research would look like in the new millennium.” p 10, L. Lippsett, ibid.
Peer reviewed journal papers
13) “Food materials from the sunken and recovered research submarine Alvin were found to be in a strikingly well-preserved state after exposure for more than 10 months to deep-sea conditions. Subsequent experiments substantiated this observation and indicated that rates of microbial degradation were 10 to 100 times slower in the deep sea than in controls under comparable temperatures.” “Microbial Degradation of Organic Matter in the Deep Sea”, Holger W. Jannasch, Kjell Eimhjellen, Carl 0. Wirsen, A. Farmanfarmalan. Science 19 Feb 1971: Vol. 171, Issue 3972, pp. 672-675. Alvin submersible can be replaced with 90-deg t/Di = 1 spherical shell sector windows without any modification of window seat flanges. The 90-deg spherical shell sector windows with t/Di = 1.0 possess not only a higher short term critical pressure but also develop more uniform stress distribution during a typical dive to 12,000 ft than the t/Di = 0.7 acrylic conical frustum windows that they replace. The 90-deg t/Di = 1.0 spherical shell sector windows (1) withstood, without catastrophic failure, 100 hr sustained loading to 20,000 psi, (2) 33 pressure cycles of 7-hr duration to 13,500 ft depth without any signs of fatigue, and (3) experienced less than 15,000 μin. strain during a simulated typical proof test dive to 13,500 ft. depth. The 90-deg t/Di = 1 spherical shell sector window presents a 50 percent larger view in water than a 90-deg t/Di = 0.7 conical frustum window that it replaces. This permits the observer inside the submersible to cover visually more ocean bottom during a single pass along the bottom and thus decreases the cost of a typical bottom search mission for a submersible.” “Spherical Shell Sector Acrylic Plastic Windows with 12,000 ft Operational Depth for Submersible Alvin”, J. D. Stachiw, R. Sletten. J. Eng. Ind. May 1976, 98(2): pp 523-536 (14 pages).
15) “During the FAMOUS survey of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in August and September, 1974 by the research submersible “Alvin” two cores were taken for radiochemical analysis. One core (527-3) was 24 cm long and the other (530-4) was 17 cm long. Both were from water depths of about 2500 m. Slices of the cores were analyzed for radiocarbon and 210 Pb. In the top 8 cm layer of 527-3 dates are constant with depth at about 2400 yr B.P. Below 8 cm radiocarbon dates increase linearly yielding an accumulation rate of 2.9 cm/1000 yr. The constant age from the surface to a depth of 8 cm can be attributed to biogenic mixing to that depth with no significant mixing below 8 cm. The excess 210Pb pattern yields a mixing coefficient of 0.6 × 10−8 cm2/sec. The top 2 cm of core 530-4 has a 14C date of 13,000 yr B.P. Below 4 cm dates increase from 16,400 to 18,000 yr B.P., but this increase probably is not statistically significant. The data indicate physical disruption of the section. The date of this disruption is not defined by the data but the restriction of excess 210Pb to the top centimeter of the core implies either that sediment accumulation at this site has only recently resumed or that both the rate of accumulation and rate and depth of bioturbation have been very small since the disrupting event.” “Radiocarbon and 210Pb distribution in submersible-taken deep-sea cores from Project FAMOUS”, Y.Nozaki, J.Kirk Cochran, Karl K.Turekian, George Keller. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Volume 34, Issue 2, March 1977, Pages 167-173.
16) “Since the discovery of excess 3He in Pacific deep waters, it has been argued that the source of this anomaly is the mid-depth injection of primordial helium from seafloor spreading centres. This hypothesis is consistent with the spatial distribution of excess 3He in the deep waters, its presence in the glassy (rapidly quenched) margins of extruded ocean basalts, and the detection of a large 3He excess in a ‘thermal plume’ (thermal anomaly >0.1 °C, sampled using a deep-tow sled) over the Galapagos Spreading Centre. In this report, we summarize 37 measurements of excess helium in hydrothermal waters sampled using the Alvin deep submersible at the Galapagos Spreading Centre during February and March of 1977.” “Excess 3He and 4He in Galapagos submarine hydrothermal waters”, W. J. Jenkins, J. M. Edmond,
Alvin Milestone attachment to bibliography: comments to explain selection of bibliographic reference.
1) Bathyscaphs have descended to great depths and the Trieste, designed by Piccard, descended to the deepest part of the ocean. It has somewhat limited mobility although it successfully did the first forensic dives on the sunken nuclear submarine Thresher in 1963. Its successor, Trieste II, had greater maneuverability as was demonstrated with its successful diving operations at the wreck site of the nuclear submarine Scorpion in 1968. The benefit of a smaller and logistically less complex deep-diving submersible was the origin of the design of Sea Pup that eventually became Alvin.
2) June 5, 1964 is a date in a published account of Alvin’s history and establishes a milestone in its design, construction, and eventual deployment. In fact the event described in the bibliography was not a true launch since there was no propeller or rudder yet; however it was otherwise complete and able to be put in the water.
3) The location of the H-bomb lost off the coast of Spain due to a midair collision of two US aircraft and the H-bomb’s recovery assist put Alvin on the map for the US Navy. First located March 24, 1966, the bomb’s cascade down slope and eventual relocation and assist in recovery took place April 7, 1966. This was a practical and extremely valuable service this deep diving submersible provided.
4) The accidental sinking of Alvin on October 16, 1968 in 5000 foot depth started a serendipitous field of hyperbaric microbiology. Eventually recovered ten months later, the flooded sphere contained the bag lunches for the three men planning to have dived when Alvin sank. Oddly the lunches were soaked in seawater but still edible, a surprise to all but microbiologist Holger Jannasch, who suspected the cold and pressure would retard bacterial decomposition.
5) The discovery that high pressure inhibited microbial decomposition, at least by surface water microbes, resulted in deeply deployed experimental chambers to study these effects in situ. Since this discovery, though serendipitous, is so important, it is expanded upon with event 4 and event 5 in the bibliography.
6) Bob Ballard played an important role in Alvin during the early 1970s and took his studies using Alvin to the continental shelf off New England. There he found evidence of sea floor spreading, the opening of the Atlantic Ocean, through a unique geologic formation that was unlikely to be found without a human occupied submersible with a manipulator. Ballard went on to explore the Mid-Atlantic Ridge with a French team in project FAMOUS. These two projects by Ballard represent the geologic commencement of Alvin use.
7) Ballard, in project FAMOUS, took news people along with the Alvin crew to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and brought Alvin to the attention of a wider audience.
8) In 1977 Alvin took part in what was probably the biggest discovery of the decade, possibly the century, when in February 1977 it found and sampled unique marine organisms in great abundance and often large sizes at a hydrothermal vent. While this vent was on a section of ridge near the Galapagos Islands, similar and not so similar vents have subsequently been found in about 40 other places and studied continuously up thru the present (2019). It had been assumed by most biologists until this discovery that life on the deep seafloor depended upon sinking phytoplankton and other marine organism detritus from the surface where photosynthesis captured sunlight to create nutrients that could support sea floor life. But here at the hydrothermal vent the source was chemical from hydrogen sulfide dissolved from rock and subsequently metabolized by bacteria and made available for consumption by these unique organisms. There are some who say that this source of energy might have permitted life to form away from the harsh early conditions at the earth’s surface and indeed might be the source of life on other planets and moons of our solar system as well. Thus this discovery, due to a great degree from Alvin’s exploration of what was originally a geological study of deep ocean ridges, has led to a new model of how life on earth began and then how it continues today.
9) Ballard used the shipwreck, RMS Titanic, to further develop deep-sea submersible exploration. Jointly with a French team, with whom he had worked during FAMOUS, he obtained support from the US Navy to test an ROV that was of interest to the Navy. But it was the discovery of Titanic from a towed camera sled that pinpointed the wreck location and, with Alvin, he subsequently photographed Titanic and even deployed a small ROV, Jason Junior, to go inside the shipwreck. This caught the public’s attention as few other Alvin exploits did.
10) For the 50th birthday of Alvin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution produced a special issue of their biannual magazine, OCEANUS. This 51st volume, No. 1, Summer 2014, contains interviews with people associated with the rebuild and operation of Alvin
11) A personal explanation by Holger Jannasch about his epiphany concerning the preserved bag lunches is recited. Instead of trying unsuccessfully to bring microbes up from the seafloor to study, take the experiments down to them with Alvin. This is the mode that microbiologists now employ. The deep sea microbes are adapted to the pressure and cannot be cultivated at normal atmospheric pressure.
12) Alvin was rebuilt between 2010 and 2013 and now contains its third personnel sphere, the 2nd and 3rd in titanium. Other changes permitted the present depth rating to 6,500 m.
13–29) references selected from those found by Goggle scholar and grouped by decade.
13) A hyperbaric microbiological study was begun based upon the discovery of the preservation of the Alvin bag lunches during the accidental sinking of Alvin in 1968.
14) Spherical acrylic Alvin windows would extend both the depth rating and the viewing angle over the original flat window with a new pressure hull for the submarine
15) Mid-Atlantic Ridge studies with Alvin in project Famous revealed detailed sedimentation rates from corer samples taken by the submarine.
16) Excess 3He was found in the Pacific mid-water resulted from mid-water venting from hydrothermal vents containing 3He enriched water.
17) Observations of rich biological communities of organisms at vent sites was in opposition to the belief that the seafloor was devoid of living organisms.
18) A measurement of heat flow at mounds revealed that there was hydrothermal activity associated with the mounds.
19) Warm plumes with water as much as 10°C above ambient have been observed at ridges.
20) Tube worms have prokaryotic cells that may be responsible for providing nutrients to the worms from the vent fluids.
21) Sulfide mounds have been studied.
22) Submarine cliffs reveal layering in the Great Abaco Canyon.
23) Crabs have been recovered exhibiting rapid growth on submerged wooden panels at vent sites.
24) Observations at the Juan de Fuca site for more than 4 years have revealed the development and decay of hydrothermal vents. 1991-2000
25) Studies of the Hawaiian plume have been made.
26) Magnetics have been studied at the Juan de Fuca rift.
27) Ambient light has been observed at Mid-Atlantic vents. This could be how the blind shrimp find new vents and avoid becoming burned by hot vent fluid.
28) The new Alvin design will permit accessing >98% of the seafloor of the ocean.
29) Studies have been made at various depths in Continental Slope Canyons.
30-38) references were selected from volume no. 6 of the Biological Society of Washington Bulletin containing reviewed papers from a symposium on Hydrothermal Vents of the Eastern Pacific, containing reports on animals and vent communities largely discovered by Alvin in 1977, 1979, and subsequent visits to vent sites as they were discovered in the Eastern Pacific.
30) Chemical analyses of water revealed the high sulfide content and in some cases metalliferous content of vent fluids.
31) Macrobiota have been examined and collected by scrapings and box cores at vent locations.
32) Mollusks such as ship-worms thrive on scraps of wood that are deposited accidentally or purposely on panels at vent sites.
33) Successful recovery of vent animals requires protection from thermal shock. Thick walled plastic containers filled with bottom water provide some protection against lethal exposure to warm surface water upon ascent in Alvin.
34) Sulfur oxidizing bacteria are responsible for the extreme bio productivity of hydrothermal vents.
35) Growth of vent microbes depend on a specific temperature range and shut down when exposed to low temperature ambient bottom water, requiring elevated temperature to grow.
36) Protistan organisms exist in the vent water and have been collected and are mostly ciliates.
37) Photographs of vent communities show the variety and ecological communities of vents.
38) Box cores have augmented the recovery of organisms from vents where Alvin has been able to collect soupy samples that aren’t successfully recovered from a ship.