Wednesday, 14 May 2014 00:00

Lost at Sea: ROV Nereus

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The ROV Nereus at work The ROV Nereus at work

Last Saturday, May 10th, the deep sea exploration community lost one of their most valued assets: the Nereus ROV. As part of a series of deep sea research dives, ROV Nereus was working with the R/V Thomas G. Thompson to explore the Kermadec Trench, the fifth deepest in the world. Just north of New Zealand, the Kermadec trench extends to 10,047 meters, just shy of the Nereus ROV's 11,000 meter rating. After losing contact with the ROV at the bottom of the Kermadec, scientists and technicians aboard the Thompson waited for the ascent fail-safe mechanisms to trigger, and for the ROV to resurface. At the five hour mark, when Nereus should have been ready for recovery, operators aboard the Thompson spotted debris floating in the water: the remnants of the Nereus ROV's flotation system. As many had feared, this spelled doom for ROV Nereus , and indicated an implosion event which, at nearly six miles under the surface, would have yielded a force near that of dynamite.


The ROV Nereus and scientist Tim Shank at sea in 2009


Owned and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Nereus' creation nearly doubled the diving capabilities previously available with other ROV's, allowing scientists to access the oceans most extreme depths.  Furthermore, Nereus was a hybrid ROV/AUV, meaning that scientists could conduct both AUV and ROV dives, allowing for large scale mapping expeditions and strategic scientific research; all with a single submersible. Without human assistance, Nereus could simultaneously map vast expanses of the ocean while gathering ocean chemistry data and high resolution images of the sea floor. The Nereus ROV operations were able to collect samples and take high resolution photos and videos of the ocean seafloor, and opened up an unexplored world for scientists and civilians all across the world.

Although we are all reeling from this loss, it is important to remember that this is the nature of ocean exploration. Nereus paved the way for future deep sea exploration, and shed light on a world cloaked in darkness. Let us now look forward to new advancements and discoveries, as we make our way back into the abyss.

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