Catalina Island News

Atlantis and Alvin visit Catalina Island


The research vessel Atlantis made a visit to Catalina Island this week. The purpose of the visit was to perform system testing and verification between continuing sea trails of Alvin a human occupied submersible.

Research Vessel Atlantis

Atlantis is owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts for the oceanographic community. It is one of the most sophisticated research vessels afloat, and it is specifically outfitted for launching and servicing Alvin.

Delivered to Woods Hole in April 1997, Atlantis was built with six science labs and storage spaces, precision navigation systems, seafloor mapping sonar, and satellite communications. The ship’s three winches, three cranes, machine shop, and specialized hangars were specifically designed to support Alvin and other vehicles of the National Deep Submergence Facility.

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 operates in all of the world’s oceans and is rarely seen in Woods Hole. In recent years, the ship and sub have spent most of their time exploring underwater volcanoes and hydrothermal vents in the Pacific Ocean.

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.

Atlantis is the namesake of WHOI’s first research vessel, a 142-foot, steel-hulled, ketch-rigged ship that sailed 299 cruises and more than 700,000 miles for ocean science from 1931 to 1966. The Institution’s flagship and symbol was the first American ship built specifically for research in marine biology, marine geology, and physical oceanography. The space shuttle Atlantis was named for the original WHOI research vessel.

Research Submersible Alvin

Alvin is the world’s longest-operating deep-sea submersible. It was launched in 1964 and has made more than 4,600 dives, along the way participating in some of the most iconic discoveries in the deep ocean. Since 2011, Alvin has undergone a comprehensive overhaul and upgrade funded by the National Science Foundation that greatly expanded its capabilities and put almost the entire ocean floor within its reach.

Alvin’s most famous exploits include locating a lost hydrogen bomb in the Mediterranean Sea in 1966, exploring the first known hydrothermal vent sites in the 1970s, and surveying the wreck of RMS Titanic in 1986. In its final series of dives before the current upgrade period, Alvin explored deep-sea biological communities in the Gulf of Mexico near the site of the Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill.

The overhaul and upgrade includes:

  • A new, larger personnel sphere with an ergonomic interior designed to improve comfort on long dives
  • Five viewports (instead of the current three) to improve visibility and provide overlapping fields of view for the pilot and two observers
  • New lighting and high-definition imaging systems
  • New syntactic foam providing buoyancy
  • Improved command and control system
  • Upgrade to 6500 meters depth
  • New batteries added to enable the submersible to stay at depth longer, giving scientists more time to work in unexplored parts of the ocean and putting 98 percent of the seafloor within their reach.

Alvin pdf
For complete history and additional information visit Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s website: