June 24, 2013

What’s the difference between a submarine and a submersible? Take a trip to DOER Marine in Alameda, CA and you’ll learn this and much more about the fascinating engineering that goes into deep water exploration. DOER, Deep Ocean and Exploration Research, was established by Dr. Sylvia Earle in 1992 and is currently run by Liz Taylor, Sylvia’s daughter. The Mission Blue team took a trip to the 55,000 square-foot facility the other week and chatted with Liz to learn more about the basics of underwater engineering and exploration.
DSC_0325First off, let’s answer our initial question: what is the difference between a submarine and submersible. Submarines are watercraft that can operate completely independently underwater. Perhaps you’ve seen Hollywood thriller, The Hunt For Red October. That there is a submarine and they are usually large, crewed, autonomous vessels.

What’s doing the lion’s share of ocean exploration these days are submersibles. These watercraft can be either manner or unmanned, but are dependent on surface vessels or other facilities to provide breathing air, electricity and other essentials. Of submersibles, we have HOV’s (Human Occupied Vehicles) and ROV’s (Remotely Operated Vehicles), which are unmanned.

At the top of this article, we can see DOER’s H3000 ROV submersible, which is capable of reaching depths up to 3000 meters. What’s cool is that these ROV’s provide modular configuration so that different devices — cameras, lamps, sensors, etc — can be easily put on and taken off. This configurability allows for scientific teams to bring the right tools to bear on their research.

Below, check out the super strong tether that extends thousands of meters into the ocean and provides essential power to the ROV.

IMG_1654One especially awesome submersible that DOER has produced is called the Ice Borehole ROV. It is a highly specialized ROV that is designed to fit down a 1000 meter borehole in Antartica. The entire craft folds upon itself, allowing it to fit into the borehole, and once it reaches beneath the ice sheet, the craft unfolds and pops open to reveal an array of customized sensors, devices and cameras. From there, scientists can expect rich fonts of data and images to start streaming back to the operations room. Under ice exploration has yielded fascinating discoveries about our natural world, such as a fish who is oriented completely 180-degrees upside-down and lives on the underside of the ice sheet, as if it were the ocean floor to normal fish!

IMG_1673Manned and unmanned research of our ocean provide critical data as we begin to understand more about the deep. With less than 5% of the ocean floor actually explored, we are at the outset of a new age of ocean exploration in which subs will play an increasingly pivotal role.

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