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Ex-Navy sub should extend Alvin's reach

Jan 1, 2003

A deep-diving submarine, similar to the famed Alvin, has been donatedto the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution by the U.S. Navy. Sea Cliff, a close cousin to Alvin, is able to dive to 19,500 feet with a crew of scientists.

Although WHOI future plans do not include operating two manned submarines, according to Adm. Richard F. Pittenger, associate director of marine operations, the addition of a second submarine will enable the Institution to mix and match parts to create a better sub.

"Sea Cliff is not going to be used as it is too large, too clumsy, and too expensive to maintain," Pittenger said. "But we would like to merge the capabilities of Sea Cliff with Alvin's to enhance Alvin's capabilities."

Alvin can dive to 13,000 feet, which means that the sub can explore 86 percent of the world's ocean floor. Installing Sea Cliff's titanium sphere in Alvin will allow research up to 19,500 feet, or 95 percent of the ocean floor, according to Pittenger.

WHOI's present deep-ocean research involves studying plate tectonicsmid-ocean ridges and subduction zonesand deep-ocean vents. Plate tectonic studies contribute to the prediction of undersea earthquakes and their resultant tsunamis. Vents are especially exciting since new life forms are reportedly discovered on every dive.