Dr. Randy Keller : Deep Submersible Technologies
When we’re studying the seafloor, we have a choice of different types of deep submergence technology. On this expedition, we used Alvin to study the seafloor, and that has the advantage of, more or less being independent from the ship. On expeditions where you’re going somewhere new like this one, you’re exploring new territory, you don’t know what you will see. You don’t know what you’ll find. And you might have a change of plans once you get to the bottom. You thought you were going to go right, and it looks better to go left. Alvin can do that. You can, at any moment, tell the pilot you want to stop, turn around, go somewhere else, go faster, go slower. Another option is a remote operated vehicle where you are still on the ship, and you are looking at a computer screens, video screens. And down below you, on the seafloor, there is a remotely operated sub that is unmanned, but you can control its cameras and its sampling arms, and things like that.
Not very many people get a chance to dive in Alvin, but the few that do, get a special initiation ceremony when they come back after their first dive. The traditional initiation is to have ice water dumped on your head. But some people get even more special treatment beyond that.
If you’ve ever been down to the bottom of a swimming pool, you notice the pressure on the inside of your ears. This is from the water. Now, in the Gulf of Alaska, in Alvin, we were down about 3000 meters. And what that pressure could do to you, if you were not protected by the submarine, is illustrated by what I am holding in my hand here. This is a styrofoam wig head, for displaying hats and wigs. And it’s traditional for us to paint and decorate these styrofoam heads like this, and then attach them to the outside of the Alvin submarine, where it is exposed to the outside pressure of going down to the bottom of the ocean. The larger head gets crushed down to this smaller, tiny size here.
Here is another example of what water pressure can do. This small foam cup used to be the size of a normal coffee cup. When we put it on the outside of the submarine and sent it to the bottom of the ocean, it was crushed down to this much smaller size.