Research Vessel Atlantis

R/V Atlantis. Image courtesy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Image courtesy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The research vessel (R/V) Atlantis is owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) for the oceanographic community. Specifically outfitted for launching and servicing Alvin, the human-occupied submersible, Atlantis is the namesake of WHOI’s first research vessel, which was the first American ship built specifically for research in marine biology, marine geology, and physical oceanography.

Science and Research Support

Main lab of the R/V Atlantis

The main laboratory space on the R/V AtlantisImage courtesy of John Dyke, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The Atlantis contains more than 3,500 square feet of laboratory space for dedicated use by the onboard science party. The main lab is a large, open-space, general-purpose laboratory directly accessible by the main deck that can accommodate a variety of shifting needs and equipment. The bio/analytical lab is isolated from the rest of the lab spaces to allow for more precise temperature control and/or elimination of contamination from other areas. The hydro lab is located on the port side of the main deck and is used as a general-purpose facility. One end of the hydro lab is used as a maintenance area for remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) used on the ship. Located near the Alvin hanger, the wet lab allows scientists to draw water samples and maintain water sampling equipment. Finally, scientists also have access to a well-equipped computer and electronics lab.

Two storerooms allow for overhead stowage of large gear. Portable lab space also is available on the working decks. In addition, the submersible support crew has access to electrical and machine shops, and the main deck houses two hangars for Alvin and the ROVs.

The Atlantis is equipped with a variety of permanent tools, including a data logging and display system; navigation displays, winch readouts, and meteorological readings in principal laboratory spaces; a CTD Rosette; an acoustic Doppler current profiler; a multibeam echosounder system for seabed mapping to full ocean depth, with full resolution, coverage, and accuracy; and acoustic navigation system with pingers and tracking transponders. The ship also has fume hoods, refrigerators and freezers, and deionized distilled water. Scientists also bring their own equipment onboard, the nature of which can vary widely depending on their mission.

The Atlantis features a variety of multi-purpose network computers for science use. Data can be transmitted via single-side band and VHF radio, weather facsimile, a satellite system known as INMARST, telex, and email. Gyrocompasses and a global positioning system, both of which are advanced navigational equipment used to augment radar and paper charts, can accurately determine the ship’s position.

Alvin and Atlantis

The submersible Alvin is framed by its launch/recovery system in a stern view of R/V Atlantis during a cruise to study seafloor formation. Image courtesy of Christopher Knight, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The submersible Alvin is framed by its launch/recovery system in a stern view of R/V Atlantis during a cruise to study seafloor formation. Image courtesy of Christopher Knight, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The Atlantis’ most distinguishing characteristic is its large, A-frame crane on the stern. The crane lifts Alvin off the deck and sets it in the water and also hauls it aboard when its work is completed. While Alvin explores the seabed, the Atlantis employs a positioning system that allows it to remain in one spot. Thrusters controlled by a global positioning satellite system compensate for wind and current.

At 274 feet in length and displacing 3,510 tons, the ship carries a complement of 36 crew members, science technicians, deep submergence group members, as well as a scientific party of 24 men and women for as long as 60 days. Because Atlantis is constantly going where Alvin is needed for exploration, the ship travels the world.

Atlantis is part of a class of similar Navy-owned research vessels designed and built by Halter Marine of Pascagoula, Mississippi. Her sister ships are R/V Thomas G. Thompson, operated by the University of Washington, and R/V Roger Revelle, operated by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Atlantis is the only vessel designed to support both Alvin and general oceanographic research.


To learn more:

R/V AtlantisExternal link, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionExternal link