The average depth of our ocean is over 3,600 meters (2.23 miles), and scientists require special equipment that is capable of visiting these regions of crushing pressures, extreme cold, and darkness. Over the last few decades, submersible technology has been developed and refined, allowing us to visualize, sample, and survey our planet’s deep-sea environments.
Submersibles are underwater robots that are deployed from the ship to the sea, where they record and collect information from the ocean’s water column and seafloor for scientific analysis. Three main types of submersibles have been used on recent NOAA Ocean Exploration-supported missions: human-occupied vehicles (HOVs), remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs).
Human-occupied vehicles (HOVs) transport a small team of scientists and pilots directly to the seafloor for a limited amount of time. Similar to the other submersibles, HOVs are equipped with tools such as lights, cameras, sensors, manipulator arms, and collection instruments. However, HOVs are unique in their ability to bring scientist’s own eyes and knowledge as deep as thousands of meters underwater to explore, observe, collect samples, and conduct research first-hand.
Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are tethered underwater robots used for research, exploration, and imagery collection in the water column and on the seafloor. ROVs are tethered to the ship, allowing control signals to be sent and received directly between topside operators and the subsea vehicle. Many ROVs can also collect samples via a manipulator arm operated by a pilot; later analysis of these samples can reveal even more about the seafloor.
Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are pre-programmed robots that can drift, dive, or glide through the ocean without real-time control by human operators. AUVs collect high-resolution sensor data, which provides detailed information for researchers. Once deployed, AUVs operate on their own, guided by a pre-planned route, which permits scientists to conduct other research while the AUV is surveying the surface or deep ocean.
While each vehicle is unique in its application, they all work to connect people with the deep-ocean realm. Click each submersible for more information about its operation.