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Executive Summary Basic research carried out at depths greater than 200m in the ocean over the last 40 years has provided dramatic and unique insights into some of the most compelling scientific questions ever posed. Understand- ing the nature of planetary processes and the fundamental constraints on the nature and evolution of life has driven scientific inquiry to remote areas of Earth and the solar system. Yet when compared to the vast dis- tances involved in space, the deep ocean lies essentially at "our back door." The remoteness and isolation of deep ocean environments makes this region of inner space a particularly fertile field for scientific inquiry. Fundamental contributions to the understanding of processes responsible for plate tectonics and ocean chemistry, as well as the origins of life and mechanisms for speciation, have been made by scientists working at depth in the ocean. There is reason to believe that further discoveries can be expected if adequate access to the ocean depths can be provided. In recognition of the significant potential that this research holds and the unique and challenging requirements that work in the deep ocean presents, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Navy have made a significant commitment to provide operational support for these efforts. Much of this exciting science was made possible through the use of deep- diving submersibles, including the now famous human-occupied vehicle (HOV) Alvin first launched nearly 40 years ago. Despite the excellent maintenance that has allowed Alvin to make more than 3,600 safe dives and modifications allowing it to take a pilot and two scientists to depths of 4,500 meters, periodic calls for its replacement have occurred. Although 1
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2 FUTURE NEEDS IN DEEP SUBMERGENCE SCIENCE significant improvements have also been made in the design and opera- tion of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), autonomous underwater ve- hicles (AUVs), and a variety of in situ remote sensing and sampling in- struments, much of the ocean water column and seafloor remains beyond the reach of the U.S. scientific community. As a consequence, NSF, NOAA, and the Navy asked the National Academies' Ocean Studies Board to undertake an examination of current and future needs in support of deep ocean research and to develop rec- ommendations about the nature and number of assets necessary to main- tain the health of this field. The statement of task required the committee to evaluate the future directions and facility requirements for deep sub- mergence science and to examine the range of potentially applicable tech- nologies that can support basic research in deep-sea and seafloor areas. Specifically, the charge to the committee was to assess current and projected capabilities of occupied and unoccupied vehicles; make recom- mendations regarding the mix of vehicles needed to continue to carry out world-class deep submergence science; and discuss innovative design concepts and technological advances that should be incorporated into any new vehicles to support future research needs. The primary sponsor, the Ocean Sciences Division of the National Sci- ence Foundation (NSF/OCE), established that the total construction costs (including related costs such as modifications of support ships) for any new assets should not exceed the upper practical limit for the Division of Ocean Sciences' midsized infrastructure fund (roughly 10 percent of the division's annual budget or approximately $25 million) and not require more than a modest increase beyond inflation in the operating budgets of the supporting agencies for deep submergence vehicles. If multiple types of vehicles were deemed necessary by the committee, suggestions were to be made concerning the optimal phasing of implementation over several years. Cost estimates were to be supplied by the National Deep Submer- gence Facility (NDSF;2 a national facility that includes Alvin, Jason, and iThe submersibles used to support deep ocean research are similar to those discussed in three recent National Research Council reports; Undersea Vehicles and National Needs (1996), Enabling Ocean Research in the 21st Century: Implementation of a Network of Ocean Observatories (2003a), and Exploration of the Seas: Voyage into the Unknown (2003b). Undersea Vehicles and National Needs provided a broad vision of the nation's needs for undersea vehicles, while the more recent studies focus on needs to support specific deep-sea activities. Enabling Ocean Research in the 21st Century and Exploration of the Seas each propose a suite of vehicles to support those endeavors. The recommendations in this report are above and beyond any capabilities called for in those two reports. 2 In 1974, the "significance of maintaining a core deep submergence operational team was recognized by ONR [Office of Naval Research], NOAA and NSF. . . when they established the National Deep Submergence Facility (NDSF) at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and formulated a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to share the operating costs of the facility."
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 3 other deep ocean research vehicles) as well as other submersible owners and operators, or outside companies if needed. More refined cost esti- mates would require a more specific design than is currently available. NSF has indicated that it simply wants some assurance that options ex- plored could reasonably be expected to be completed for $25 million. ENHANCING THE VALUE OF EXISTING ASSETS The scientific demand for deep diving vehicles (both human-occu- pied vehicles and remotely operated or autonomous vehicles) is, at present, not being adequately met. Part of this problem can be traced to the inadequacy of the number and capabilities of existing assets to per- form the type of scientific effort associated with deep submergence sci- ence funded through NSF and NOAA. This report makes specific sugges- tions for additions to that asset pool. The way in which existing assets are managed and utilized also contributes to the problem. In this context, management refers to the acquisition, maintenance, and access manage- ment of vehicles used to carry out basic ocean research and exploration. In particular, the current management system does not always ensure a match between the requirements of federally funded projects and the ap- propriate deep submergence assets. Modification of existing assets and construction of new assets to alleviate this mismatch would represent both a significant capital investment and an additional demand for operating funds. Decisions to commit these resources should be accompanied by a commitment to ensure the best use of the nation's deep submergence as- sets. The management of the nation's deep submergence assets should, therefore, be clarified and revised to ensure the optimal use of both exist- ing and potential assets in future scientific research. There appear to be situations in which deep submergence scientific goals cannot be met by NDSF assets, but can be met by non-NDSF assets. For example, limitations on the viewing capability of Alvin and on its ca- pability to achieve neutral buoyancy at multiple times during a single dive make it less suited for certain types of midwater research than some vehicles that are not part of the NDSF asset pool. For this reason, argu- ments favoring the full utilization of NDSF assets for fiscal reasons have the unintended consequence of restricting the scope of deep submergence science. A reasonable solution to this problem is to upgrade the capabilities of NDSF assets so that they can be used in all fields of deep submergence science. This would expand the scope of deep submergence science and maintain costs at a reasonable scale. Although this is clearly an important part of the solution, by itself, it may be inadequate. First, these upgrades, if they occur, will not be completed for two to three years; thus some
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4 FUTURE NEEDS IN DEEP SUBMERGENCE SCIENCE short-term measures are needed. Perhaps more importantly, there is a danger that the existing pattern of use of NDSF assets will simply persist. One way to address both of these problems is for NSF/OCE to provide modest, but immediate, funding to support the use of non-NDSF assets (NOAA currently funds the use of non-NDSF facilities on a modest basis). This funding should not be drawn from the NSF/OCE science program budgets but should be allocated by the NSF/OCE Integrative Facilities Program. An additional benefit of establishing such a fund is that it would provide a gauge of demand for capabilities not provided by current NDSF assets. If, as additional assets become available (either through purchase or construction), the demand for non-NDSF vehicles declines (or never materializes), these funds could be used to address other (non-deep sub- mergence) marine operational needs as determined by NSF/OCE. Recommendation: NSF/OCE should establish a small pool of additional funds (on the order of 10 percent of the annual budget for NDSF) that could be targeted specifically to support the use of non-NDSF vehicles for high-quality, funded research, when legitimate barriers to the use of NDSF assets (as opposed to personal preference) can be demonstrated. DEVELOPING NEW ASSETS Reforming the asset management system to allow for wider (though still limited) access to non-NDSF assets will, by itself, not be sufficient to meet the needs of basic ocean research. Existing assets are simply too lim- ited in their capabilities and capacity, especially at depths greater than 3,000m, to support the growing demand to conduct research over the nec- essary geographic and depth range. High demand for existing deep-div- ing assets within the NDSF pool has forced asset managers to place a heavy premium on maximizing operational days while minimizing days in transit. The pressure that this geographic restriction has led to can only be expected to increase as ongoing efforts to address a more scientifically diverse set of problems increase the demand for deep-diving vehicles to work in diverse settings. Recommendation: NSF/OCE should construct an additional scientific ROV system dedicated to expeditionary research,3 to broaden the use of deep submergence tools in terms of the number of users, the diver- sity of research areas, and the geographical range of research activities. 3As opposed to those needed to support the Ocean Observatories Initiative.
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 5 Furthermore, while such an ROV system can be constructed using well-established subsystems, several factors should be considered during its design. Probably most important overall is the incorporation of several attributes that will greatly enhance its utility as well as its ability to complement existing assets. Some of the most significant attributes in- clude standardized tooling suites, open software and hardware architec- tures, electronic thruster systems, tether management systems, improved handling systems, camera and lighting systems, and a variable ballast sys- tem. The total cost of this system would be approximately $5 million, and it could be built and ready for service within one year of authorization. Using the current University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) model for marine operations, this ROV system could be mobi- lized onto the current fleet without any additional hardware. The opera- tional requirements would be roughly equal to those for the current Jason II. The operational costs represented by this new ROV should therefore be similar to those of Jason II and, thus, would represent a 20 percent increase in the overall operating costs of NDSF. This increase should have a mod- est impact if it is anticipated and the overall budget is increased incre- mentally in preparation for the construction and operation of a new ROV. One justification for adding a new ROV system to the NDSF asset pool is to provide even greater geographic range to the growing number of ocean scientists seeking access to deep submergence assets. Recommendation: NSF/OCE should, after a proper analysis of the cost- benefits of distributed facilities, strongly consider basing this new ROV system at a second location that would minimize the transit time for periodic overhaul and refit of both ROV systems. The best approach to deep submergence science is the use of a combi- nation of tools, at different scales. Surveys of the seafloor are best achieved using tethered vehicles and AUVs. Experiments and observatory work that require longer time at already well-characterized sites on the seafloor are best conducted with ROVs. Moreover, work at depths greater than 6,500m will definitely require unoccupied vehicles, as long as the expense and risk of constructing and operating HOVs capable of work at these great depths discourage their use. As discussed in Chapter 3, human pres- ence at depth remains a significant lynchpin in the nation's oceanographic research effort. Detailed descriptions of specific sites or work in the water column benefit from the direct observation allowed by HOVs. Despite rapid and impressive growth in the capabilities of unoccupied vehicles (both remotely operated and autonomous), scientific demand for HOV
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6 FUTURE NEEDS IN DEEP SUBMERGENCE SCIENCE access can be expected to remain high. The capabilities of the existing Alvin, however, limit its scientific usefulness for some types of deep ocean research. Improving these capabilities, even without extending its depth range, is clearly necessary if many of the high-priority scientific goals dis- cussed in Chapter 2 are to be achieved. Recommendation: NSF/OCE should construct a new, more capable HOV (with improved visibility, neutral buoyancy capability, increased payload, extended time at working depth, and other design features discussed in Chapter 4~. The bulk of existing Alvin use is at depths considerably shallower than its 4,500-m limit. Even at these shallower depths, scientific demand remains unmet. At the same time, certain scientific goals would be fur- thered by the acquisition of an HOV with a 6,500-m-depth range. More- over, under current safety rules, Alvin and other HOVs are prohibited from operating in waters deeper than the rated working depth, even if this operation is in the water column. Although various options for ex- tending the safety range should be explored (e.g., a depth-triggered sys- tem that would make it impossible for the vehicle to descend below a given depth), it can be assumed that this restriction will remain in place for the foreseeable future. For this reason alone, providing access to an HOV with a greater depth capability would allow its use over a broader geographical range, improving its utility for a portion of the potential user community. As discussed at length in Chapter 4 however, it is not clear at present that a suitable sphere can be obtained to allow the fabrication of the main body of a deeper-diving HOV, especially given the limited funds available to NSF/OCE in the next two fiscal years. The most promising approaches for moving ahead during the time frame articulated by NSF/OCE would make use of one of two existing spheres. The first is an unused sphere from the Russian Mir HOV series (referred to as the Lokomo sphere), which has been rated to 6,000m. The potential for obtaining this sphere must be evaluated by NSF and NDSF. The other available sphere is the titanium sphere used in the existing Alvin, which is rated to 4,500m. Although other approaches based on fab- ricating an entirely new sphere warrant investigation, there is insufficient information at this time to determine the ultimate availability and cost of specifically fabricated HOV spheres. Given the technical and cost uncer- tainties, and that the scientific justification for conducting HOV opera- tions at depths greater than 4,500m appears to be incremental (i.e., it rep- resents promising but logical extensions of work supported at shallower depths), it is not clear that significant additional resources (i.e., in excess
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY of those needed to fully upgrade the current NDSF HOV capability; as discussed in Chapter 4) should be expended on a new HOV with greatly extended depth capability if that expenditure were to preclude construc- tion of the ROV system recommended in Chapter 4 of this report. Recommendation: Thus, constructing an HOV capable of operating at significantly greater depths (6,000 meters plus) should be undertaken only if additional design studies demonstrate that this capability can be delivered for a relatively small increase in cost and risk. To implement these recommendations, NSF and other NDSF spon- sors would have to increase funding at a rate of 10-15 percent each year over the next three years to (1) cover the cost of non-NDSF vehicle use and (2) cover the cost of the new ROV. In order to provide the capabilities and capacity to meet existing and anticipated demands, NSF and other NDSF sponsors should take a three-step approach: (1) set aside additional funds called for to support non-NDSF vehicle use as quickly as possible; (2) initiate acquisition of the new ROV in 2004 or 2005; and (3) undertake a detailed engineering study to evaluate the various HOV enhancement options called for in Chapter 4 with an aim of delivering these new plat- forms by 2006. It is entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that given more time and significantly greater funds, the federal agencies that fund deep submergence research could build a number of platforms with greater capabilities than described here. The statement of task was, how- ever, specifically crafted to ensure that advice provided in this report was appropriate given the current fiscal and programmatic realities facing fed- eral science agencies. If, in the future, these requirements were to change significantly, then the appropriate mix of assets needed to support deep submergence effort should be revisited.4 4The purpose of this study is to provide NSF with recommendations for consideration regarding activities to provide infrastructure support for basic research at depth in the oceans through NDSF or other means. As such, the discussions in this report are designed to in- form this question and are not intended to provide an exhaustive account of all research- related activities carried out at depth or a complete account of all the potential assets that exist. The discussion of assets in this report is limited therefore to those that establish whether adequate deep submergence vehicles exist within or outside the National Deep Submergence Facility. Again, any recommendations made in this report are above and be- yond the needs for other large programs such as NSF's Ocean Observatories Initiative or activities falling within the realm of ocean exploration.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: