Humans have been able to venture into just a tiny fraction of Earth’s deepest trenches at the bottom of the oceans—and then for only brief visits and at considerable expense. Expanding on these pioneering expeditions, scientists and engineers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have built a new efficient, multi-purpose “hybrid” vehicle that can explore and operate in the crushing pressures of the greatest ocean depths.
On its first mission, the new vehicle, called Nereus (rhymes with “serious”), explored the deepest part of the ocean, Challenger Deep—a nearly 7-mile-deep trench east of the Marianas Islands in the western Pacific. The trench extends farther below the sea surface than Mount Everest reaches into the sky. In the future, Nereus could also be used under ice-capped polar waters.
Nereus, an unmanned vehicle, operates in two complementary modes. It can swim freely as an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to survey large areas of the depths, map the seafloor, and give scientists a broad overview. When Nereus locates something interesting, the vehicle’s support team can bring the vehicle back on board the ship and transforms it into a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) tethered to the ship via a micro-thin, fiber-optic cable. Through this tether, Nereus can transmit high-quality, real-time video images and receive commands from skilled pilots on the ship to collect samples or conduct experiments with a manipulator arm.
Learn more on WHOI.edu »
Nereus is a new, one-of-a-kind vehicle designed and operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. It works in two modes: as a free-swimming, autonomous robot that surveys wide areas of the deep sea, or as a vehicle linked to a surface ship via a fiber-optic cable that transmits data and images up and sends commands down. Learn more about the vehicle in this interactive feature.
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