Milestone-Proposal talk:ALVIN: Deep-Sea Research Submersible, 1964-1965

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First assessment of the proposal by Prof. Van Dover -- John Vardalas (talk) 02:58, 28 December 2020 (UTC)

Below I've posted Prof. Van Dover's answers to questions posed to her regarding this proposal.

Dr. Cindy Van Dover is the Harvey W. Smith professor of Biological Oceanography at Duke University. In her career, she made nearly 100 dives to the deep seabed, including 48 dives as Pilot-in-Command of Alvin. She has also been an early adopter of deep-submergence technology, including the ROV Jason, the AUV Sentry, and telepresence, and has served as Chief Scientist on numerous deep-sea expeditions. In recent years, she has become a leader in the emergent field of deep-sea environmental management, particularly in the context of deep-sea mining.


a) Has the proposer established clear historical significance?

Prof. Van Dover's answer:

"YES. The historical narrative clearly illustrates how Alvin has been (and continues to be) transformational, contributing to transdisciplinary advances in science and engineering, and to unsurpassed leadership in access to the seabed for the benefit of society for decades. The vehicle itself is symbolic of the creativity and talent of its designers, operators, and users. Engineered Alvin systems have served as the basis for design of the other vehicles in the global human-occupied submersible research fleet. The entire field of deep-submergence science was enabled by Alvin engineers and operations teams and initiated by the Alvin science users. Deep-diving research ROVs that now dominate deep-ocean research were derivatives of Alvin engineering and science advances. I would add that an important Alvin legacy is that the submarine inspired and continues to inspire generations of deep-sea engineers and scientists. The list of scientists who have dived in Alvin includes a Who’s Who of leaders in the field."

b) Are their arguments well developed and technically strong?

Prof. Van Dover's answer:

"YES. The engineering advances are especially well described and compelling in their diversity (e.g., hull manufacture, syntactic foam design, navigation, underwater cameras, hull penetrators, safety design). Discovery of hydrothermal vents absolutely changed how we think about adaptations of organisms to environmental extremes, the origin of Life on Earth, and the potential for life on other planets. This is the most significant example of fundamental scientific knowledge enabled by Alvin and is appropriately highlighted in the proposal."

c) In your view, is the wording of the citation below accurate? YES.

Prof. Van Dover's answer:


Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) commissioned ALVIN, the world’s first mobile, untethered, crewed, deep-sea submersible in 1964. Navy certified in 1965, engineers and scientists at WHOI pioneered innovations in deep-sea acoustical navigation, communications, photography and lighting, and life support systems. ALVIN was instrumental in recovering a lost H-bomb, photographing RMS Titanic, creating the field of hyperbaric microbiology and by its discoveries of hydrothermal vents, [which] revolutionized our understanding of life’s origins.

d) Do the arguments in the proposal fully support the above citation?

Prof. Van Dover's answer:

"Yes. Each fact in the citation immediately above is well documented in the proposal text."

e) Finally, have the proposers provided adequate supporting references to support the claims and arguments?

Prof. Van Dover's answer:

"Yes. Water Baby by Victoria Kaharl is cited; it is a landmark account of the history of Alvin that benefitted from and synthesized many hours of interviews with engineers and scientists at the time (late 1980s). The supporting texts and citations in the proposal are pertinent and include excerpts from dozens of peer-reviewed publications that report on and give authority to major engineering and scientific advances."

f) Are important references missing?

Prof. Van Dover's answer:

"No. But I do want to add that Alvin’s work has been featured in innumerable documentaries, newspaper and magazine articles, novels, etc. The vehicle and its work have been celebrated worldwide, for decades, for many reasons."

Re: First assessment of the proposal by Prof. Van Dover -- Awilliams (talk) 18:56, 31 March 2021 (UTC)

Dear Dr. Van Dover, Cyndy, Thank you for your generous review. There is no one who is better qualified to assess the utility of Alvin than you as a scientific user and a former pilot. Sandy Williams

Second Assessment from Dr. Robert Ballard -- John Vardalas (talk) 18:50, 10 January 2021 (UTC)

Below I've posted Dr. Ballard's assessment of this Milestone proposal as communicated to me. Dr. Ballard is an eminent oceanographer and renowned deep sea explorer. He has also been a pioneer in deep sea archaeology. He started the Center for Ocean Exploration and Archaeological Oceanography and is Director of the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography.


Dear John,

Proposal looks great.

The only comment deals with the discovery of the first hydrothermal vents, which were discovered by Woods Hole towed camera system ANGUS, which detected the temperature anomaly while at the same time took pictures of the cloudy water coming out of an underwater vent surrounded by giant clams. ALVIN was vectored to that location the following day. This discovery was published in WHOI’s Oceanus Magazine entitled “Notes on a major oceanographic find”, Oceanus, v. 20, p. 35-44.

ANGUS and later ARGO working with ALVIN proved to be a powerful “tag team” of unmanned and manned technologies in WHOI’s deep submergence tool box resulting in the discovery and documentation of hydrothermal vents, high temperature “Black Smokers”, and the RMS TITANIC.

Hope this helps.



Re: Second Assessment from Dr. Robert Ballard -- Awilliams (talk) 19:05, 31 March 2021 (UTC)

Dear Bob, Thank you for your review and for that valuable piece of information that Alvin wasn't first at the hydrothermal vent; it was preceded by a day when ANGUS found the correlation of a temperature signal with the pictures of giant clams. I have reworded the citation from "its discovery of hydrothermal vents" to "Alvin's study of hydrothermal vents" which of course includes the continued use of towed unmanned assets. Sincerely, Sandy Williams

Third Assessment of Proposal by Victoria Kaharl -- John Vardalas (talk) 22:30, 1 February 2021 (UTC)

I'm submitting this review, verbatim, on behalf of Victoria Kaharl. She is an award-winning science writer and author of "Water Baby, The Story of Alvin", published by Oxford University Press. To date, "Water Baby" is the most extensive history on Alvin.



Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred: 1974 to 1985 Alvin was commissioned in 1964.

Title of the proposed milestone: ALVIN: Deep-Sea Research Submersible, 1974-1985 Wrong dates. See above.

In the interests of clarity and proper emphasis, I suggest the following for the IEEE plaque:

"DSRV Alvin (1964-present) is a national facility (funded by the US Navy, NSF and NOAA), operated by WHOI for the U.S. oceanographic research community. Alvin was the world’s first deep-sea submarine. Earlier untethered craft could not go as deep; the bathyscaphes went deeper but could not move about freely. Alvin changed our understanding of the world and led to new fields of scientific inquiry and innovations in engineering. It set the standards for operating in the deep sea. Submersibles that followed benefited from the day-to-day operations of this pioneering craft, and the ingenuity and vision of those who operated and maintained it and dived in it to do what was once impossible— explore the deep sea, which remains a vast frontier".

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. Smith Laboratory of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where Alvin was designed, taken to sea and deployed…

Alvin was not designed at WHOI. Alvin was designed by Harold Froehlich, an aeronautical engineer at General Mills in Minneapolis. Litton Industries bought the engineering part of General Mills in the summer of 1963. Thus it was ’Litton,’ not ‘General Mills’ on Alvin’s sail when it was commissioned in Woods Hole in 1964.

Alvin was named for Allyn Vine

If anyone had wanted to name this craft after Allyn, it would have been called the Allyn Collins Vine.

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)?

ALVIN was the first untethered and fully mobile human occupied deep-ocean diving research vehicle. The bathyscaph Trieste was earlier, 1960, (and deeper) but was practically more of an elevator. The Trieste was not the first bathyscaphe. Its creator Auguste Piccard also designed and built (1932) an aeronautical version that went 54,400 feet into the atmosphere. Both of these craft (air and sea) used a round passenger sphere and Plexiglas (methylmethacrylate) conical ports. Both of these were a part of Alvin’s design.

Re: Third Assessment of Proposal by Victoria Kaharl -- Awilliams (talk) 19:42, 31 March 2021 (UTC)

Dear Ms. Kaharl, Victoria, Thank you for your review. I was fortunate that I had available my own copy of "Water Baby", the definitive reference as well as a most readable exposition of stories, many for which I have personal recognition, like the arrival of bedraggled Alvin on the WHOI dock in 1969. While I never saw the sandwiches myself, my wife, Izzie, saw then in Howard Sanders refrigerator in their lab. Your proposed citation is one I wish I could use but I am limited to 70 words. Something about the letter size in the bronze casting. I liked the reference to the funding by NSF, ONR, and NOAA and used it later in the historical text. I struggled with the dates, initially composing the proposal for the entire history of Alvin from 1964 to 2019 and later 2020 but there was a strong emphasis on a reduced interval and I chose the decade 1974 to 1984 (OK this is a year more than a decade but I wanted to include FAMOUS and preparations for the Titanic expedition. 1974 was when the new titanium hull came online and diving recommenced. I learned from Bob Ballard, another reviewer, that Alvin didn't discover the Galapagos hydrothermal vent because ANGUS got the temperature and photos of giant clams the day before Alvin dove in 1977. It is in the book but I missed that and the "discovery" goes to ANGUS. I was on the next Alvin visit to the vents in 1979 so I did have the RCA CCD Color Camera on my watch, (I was a minor player, along because I had a newly developed acoustic current meter that worked even covered with crabs). Don Walsh, of Trieste fame, gave me lots of historical information about other deep diving submersibles before or contemporary with Alvin but acknowledged that Alvin has stuck it out and made a major impact. So I addressed the historical context with an introductory paragraph in the history section. I also took that opportunity to correct the original design credit to Bud Froelich and his Sea Pup. I had always though that the name Alvin was related to the song by Alvin and the Chipmonks and there is a picture of a submarine with Alvin written on it on Earl Hays' office door. I am pretty sure that I didn't include the name Allyn Vine in the draft of the Milestone Wiki that you had access to so I didn't include anything about Alvin being named for Al Vine (although I have always believed that it was, starting with the project being referred to as Al Vine's submarine in the WHOI office over the Drug Store). There was certainly nothing about Lulu being Al Vine's mother name. Don Walsh took exception to my statement in the citation that Alvin was the world's first mobile deep-sea submersible in 1964, pointing out that my criticism of its limited mobility ("it is more of an elevator")was inaccurate because it had explored the Thresher and later Trieste II had done the Scorpion. So I corrected these things and was grateful for the opportunity.

  I am remembering the cruises to the HEBBLE site where you were present, I think helping Charley Hollister with his biography.  We were all so young then.  But good times were had.

Sincerely, Sandy Williams

Fourth Assessment of the proposal from Dr. Don Walsh, Captain USN (Ret.) -- John Vardalas (talk) 01:00, 18 February 2021 (UTC)

Below is Dr. Walsh's assessment which I received in an email from him. I'm posting it verbatim. Dr. Walsh has had a long an distinguished career in the design, manufacture, and operation of submersible systems. A retired naval officer (submarines) he was designated U.S. Navy deep submersible pilot #1 in the early 1970s.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

15 February 2021

From: Don Walsh

To: IEEE Historical Committee

Subj: IEEE Historical Recognition for the Manned Submersible ALVIN

Ref: Email from Professor John Vardalas to me dated 15 January 2021

Thank you for inviting me to comment on the nomination of Woods Hole’s submersible ALVIN for recognition by the IEEE’s Milestones Program. The opinions given here are informed by my being active in the deep submergence community since 1959.

I believe ALVIN and the Woods Hole staff that supported it for nearly six decades are very deserving of this recognition. It’s long overdue considering the major scientific contributions facilitated by this pioneering manned submersible.

I have looked at the evaluation criteria and will address the following categories listed in Dr. Vardalas’ email:

a) Has the proposer established clear historical significance?

Yes, for the importance of ALVIN’s work at WHOI, and its general contribution to the marine sciences. However, it fails to recognize significant earlier scientific work by earlier manned submersibles. There seems to be a subtle theme that in situ oceanographic work began with the advent of ALVIN. This is historically incorrect.

b) Are their arguments well developed and technically strong?

Yes, just incomplete. Although I believe that the cites of published results of research facilitated by ALVIN is quite complete and compelling.

c) In your view, is the wording of the citation below accurate?

Mostly but it is historically incorrect. Please see the part that I’ve hghlighted in [bold]:

"Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) commissioned ALVIN, the world’s first mobile, untethered, crewed, deep-sea submersible in 1964. Navy certified in 1965, engineers and scientists at WHOI pioneered innovations in deep-sea acoustical navigation, communications, photography and lighting, and life support systems. ALVIN was instrumental in recovering a lost H-bomb, photographing RMS Titanic, creating the field of hyperbaric microbiology and by its discoveries of hydrothermal vents, revolutionized our understanding of life’s origins"

In claiming “the world’s first…”, I assume the nominator meant only for manned submersibles used for scientific research. But by the completion of ALVIN 1964-1965, worldwide there were nearly two dozen others in operation. They were a mix of uses including proof-of-concept, in situ work tasks or for military missions. Of that number perhaps half of them were doing scientific work, ALVIN was far from being the first.

I have gone into my 60+ years manned submersible archive and offer the following examples of pre-ALVIN uses of manned submersibles for in situ science:

1. William Beebe’s dives with his Bathysphere, 1930-1934. See Beebe, “Half Mile Down”, 1934. This was a cable lowered manned vehicle. He and Otis Barton were the first ‘hydronauts’.

2. In 1953 the French Navy bathyscaph FNRS-3 did scientific dives mostly for biological research. See Houot and Willm “2000 Fathoms Down in the Bathyscaphe”, 1955.

3. From 1953-1960 the FNRS-3 made a total of 57 scientific dives. See Jarry, “L’Aventure des Bathyscaphes”, 2003.

4. In 1956 the Piccard bathyscaph Trieste did six scientific dives for “biological observations”. See Piccard and Dietz, “Seven Miles Down”, 1961.

5. In 1957, Trieste made 17 dives sponsored by ONR conducting scientific observations for biology, acoustics, geology, light penetration and gravity. Piccard and Dietz Ibid.

6. From 1959-1960, now the US Navy owned Trieste made 7 scientific dives as part of Project Nekton. Purposes of those dives was biological and acoustics research. Piccard and Dietz ibid.

7. Although the nominator characterizes the Navy’s Bathyscaph Trieste as “…more of an elevator…”, that’s not correct. It did some serious scientific work from 1962-1963, while making dives off San Diego. Some examples are in situ gravimeter measurements (Mackenzie NEL), vertical sound velocity profiles (Mackenzie), earth’s background vibration (Bradner Scripps), ichthyology of the San Diego Trough (Hubbs Scripps), identifying the makeup of the deep scattering layer (Barham Cal State San Diego) and microcurrents at the seafloor (La Fond NEL). I was the pilot on several of these dives.

8. During 1962-1974, the French Navy’s second bathyscaph, Archimede made 121 scientific dives. Jarry ibid. Also DeLauze, “Un Conquerant Sous La Mer”,1997.

This is not intended to be a definitive timeline; just a few examples of work done prior to ALVIN becoming operational. As shown, the first manned submersible dives for science began a full decade (or three if you include Beebe) before ALVIN was first put into the water in 1964 and nearly two decades prior to the Nominator’s 1974 date used by him as the beginning of ALVIN’s scientific life that’s cited in the nomination.

d) Do the arguments in the proposal fully support the above citation?

Yes, other than the historical misstatement as to ALVIN’s being the world’s first untethered, manned submersible and the implication that it was also first in doing ‘real’ scientific work in the ocean. I have given the historical timeline above simply to support my assertion about historical accuracy...

e) Finally, have the proposers provided the needed references to support their claims and arguments? Are important references missing? Do any of the references have credibility issues?

Yes, I believe that the listing of cites is more than sufficient to support the nomination.

Under “What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome” (page 4), there is another historical error. The nominator writes that ROV’s and AUV’s “…came along in 1976 and later…”. In fact, the first large scale ROV developments began at the Naval Undersea Center at San Diego about 1963 or 1964.

On page 8 under “Supporting Materials….”, paragraph 1.) says, “Bathyscaphs have been lowered to great depths…” Bathyscaphs are free swimming while bathyspheres are cable lowered. Maybe this is a typo?

The text also remarks on their limited maneuvering ability. That was somewhat true with Trieste although it successfully did the first forensic dives on the sunken nuclear submarine Thresher in 1963. The successor, Trieste II had greater maneuverability as was demonstrated with its successful diving operations at the wreck site of the nuclear submarine Scorpion in 1968…

One final comment/question. Why did the nomination only consider ALVIN’s operations from 1974-1985? Yes, the submersible’s first years were devoted to testing as well as learning how operate and support it. However according to Kaharl’s book “Water Baby”, there were scientific dives prior to 1974. Perhaps “1974” is a typo?

In summary, since history is the essence of this nomination, then it’s important that it be as correct as possible. The nomination of ALVIN should not imply that it was first in doing significant in situ research. Yet in reading through the nomination this seems to be the case. Clearly, ALVIN was the best, most productive and longest operating of any manned submersibles doing deep ocean research. And there is no second place. But, for the sake of historical accuracy, the pioneering work of other researchers and their submersibles must be taken into account.

Re: Fourth Assessment of the proposal from Dr. Don Walsh, Captain USN (Ret.) -- Awilliams (talk) 20:18, 31 March 2021 (UTC)

Dear Captain Walsh, Thank you for the review of my Alvin Milestone proposal. And especially thank you for historical information that I was mostly little aware of. You have made a good point that the Milestone needs to be historically correct. I was aware as you know of your descent to the Challenger Deep with Piccard in 1960. But I wasn't aware of the Trieste scientific dives and those on the Thresher and Trieste II's dives on Scorpion. But most important was your information that there were numerous (modestly numerous)deep-diving submersibles in 1964 when Alvin was delivered. And I was really not well acquainted with the Bud Froelich work at NEL in San Diego on Sea Pup. Thank you for the paper about Trieste and Sea Pup/Alvin - Almost Stablemates. I have used some of that information in a paragraph at the top of the historical part of the Milestone. There are a number of things that I considered doing to make the historical record more useful for anyone trying to put together the picture of the research submersible community in the 1960s, utilizing your citations as references but in the end I kept it to things in the text without references on the grounds that the Milestone is about Alvin although a case could be made that a Milestone about Research Submersibles could be made. But then I would be the wrong person to do it and you may have other things on your agenda. You are correct that the view of Alvin (and perhaps the research submersible community in general) is WHOI centric. The Milestone proposal is also heavily weighted on the scientific significance, which is less interesting to IEEE than the engineering, about which I know less. You will see that I have corrected the citation removing "world's first mobile ..." and replaced it with "Alvin became one of the world's most important deep-sea scientific instruments". I appreciate your observation that Alvin has had a long history and that is well cited in the scientific papers. I have been encouraged to limit the Milestone to about a decade so I chose when the new titanium hull came on line in 1974 after the rebuild from the sinking in 1968 and recovery in 1969. But to end it I added a year to allow inclusion of project FAMOUS and the preparation for Titanic. Bob Ballard pretty much moved his deep-sea operations from Alvin to Argo and Jason then and it was these real-time cable connected deep diving ROVs that could stay down longer that ended manned submersibles for him. I was aware of Deep-Tow and the capabilities of side scan sonar but to replace the hovering of Alvin near the bottom required a sort of garage to mind the tether and that was different from the ROVs that preceded it. Again I am probably victim of a WHOI centric perspective. But practically, I needed a plausible way to end the decade even though it was artificial.

Sincerely, Sandy Williams (Albert J. Williams 3rd, WHOI Scientist Emeritus)

Note from the Advocate -- John Vardalas (talk) 01:20, 18 February 2021 (UTC)

I believe that this proposal has received a thorough external review. Clearly there is room for improvement. The next step is for the proposer to respond, through the REPLY button, to each review separately. I'm confident that addressing the reviewers' comments will make the ALVIN proposal a strong one.

Dr. Walsh's assessment of the changes made in response to his review -- John Vardalas (talk) 05:36, 5 April 2021 (UTC)

Dr. Walsh has returned the following comments to the changes made in response to his review.

"Dear John,

I am happy with Sandy’s reply and the corrections to the citation and related supporting information. I have nothing to add in the way of further comment.

At age 89, there are not many of us early pioneers in deep submerge technologies and operations left. My team of civilians and sailors was 14, 1950-1962 now there are only three of us...

I don’t want the ‘corporate memory’ of what we did get lost or modified. We’ve never had a historian who has tried to capture those days from the late 40’s to the mid-60’s and as we die off much of that history will be lost.

There’s plenty of room on ’the podium’ for all of us...

Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this IEEE project.

Best wishes,