Alaska Sea Grant in the News


Famous submersible to explore Alaska's undersea depths
ALVIN to study undersea volcanoes, deepwater crabs, fish, methane seeps

Date:June 3, 1999
Contact: Dr. Raymond Highsmith, Director, WCPR-NURC, 907-474-7836,
Dave Doudna, Operations Manager, WCPR-NURC, 907-474-7840,
Shelly Lauzon, Senior News Officer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute 508-289-2270,

FAIRBANKS, Alaska -- Made famous by its deep ocean dives and exploration of the Titanic, the deep submergence vehicle ALVIN will spend this summer probing the oceanic depths off Alaska.

The West Coast and Polar Regions Undersea Research Center, located at the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, is bringing ALVIN to the Gulf of Alaska. Researchers funded by the center will use the vehicle to make 21 dives to study undersea volcanoes, deepwater crabs and fish, and methane seeps.

ALVIN Alaska Cruise '99 is set to begin July 18, when its support ship, the 274-foot ATLANTIS, will depart Astoria, Oregon, for the monthlong research expedition.

During the first leg of the science cruise, researchers from the National Marine Fisheries Service in Kodiak and Oregon State University will ride ALVIN to the seafloor to study the Patton-Murray Seamounts. This cluster of undersea mountains 300 miles south of Kodiak Island is known for its tectonic activity as well as for several species of deepwater crab and fish that live nearby. The seamount cluster is about 200 miles long and 80 miles wide, with the top of the highest seamount rising to within 984 feet of the ocean surface.

If all goes as scheduled, ATLANTIS and ALVIN are expected to make a brief stop in Kodiak, Alaska, on Saturday, July 31, to take on provisions and researchers.

Following these shore duties, ATLANTIS will embark on the second leg of its science mission. The destination this time is the Kodiak Seamount, a volcano that lies 7,500 feet beneath the surface of the Gulf of Alaska, approximately 120 miles southeast of Kodiak Island, Alaska. Its small three-mile diameter, flat-topped summit is strewn with fault lines. Volcanic rocks crop out on the seamount's summit and side slopes. This seamount is slowly slipping beneath the tectonic plate that supports Alaska.

Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography will undertake studies of the Kodiak Seamount to examine the geology and structure of this deep-sea volcanic ridge as well as to understand the methane seeps and unique biological communities that occur here. Scientists hope to learn more about how methane seeps provide energy to deep sea species and how the greenhouse gas may be contributing to climate change.

The science cruise is expected to conclude on or about August 13, after which the ATLANTIS will return to Astoria, Oregon.

First built in 1964, ALVIN is the nation's most famous deep submergence vehicle. Having undergone extensive modifications and technology upgrades through the years, ALVIN is capable of withstanding the extreme pressures of the deep ocean down to 3 miles beneath the sea surface.

ALVIN's support ship, ATLANTIS, was built in 1997, and is one of the newest and most advanced oceanographic research vessels in the world. ATLANTIS is owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Principle Investigators and Project Titles

Robert Duncan, Oregon State University: "Volcanic and tectonic processes at the Patton-Murray Seamounts, Gulf of Alaska"

Bradley Stevens, National Marine Fisheries Service, Kodiak, Alaska: "Habitat ecology of deepwater crabs on Gulf of Alaska Seamounts"

Peter Lonsdale, University of Calfornia, San Diego: "Neotectonics of Kodiak Seamount"

Lisa Levin, University of Calfornia, San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography: "Controls on infaunal community structure at Pacific methane seeps"

Kevin Brown, University of Calfornia, San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Co-PI: Joris M. Gieskes: "Flux measurements and hydrogeologic studies at cold seeps off Alaska and Southern California"

Learn more about ALVIN Alaska Cruise '99 online

Summaries of ALVIN Alaska Cruise '99 research:

ALVIN online:

ATLANTIS online:

ALVIN Photos:

The Alaska Sea Grant College Program is a marine research, education and outreach service headquartered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Sea Grant is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in partnership with the State of Alaska and private industry.

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