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ROV Technology

Oceaneering's SpiderBOT™
Oceaneering’s SpiderBOT™

ROVs – Remotely Operated Vehicles – allow us to look and touch at the bottom of the ocean where no human can survive. Most deep sea ROVs can dive to 6,000 m (20,000 feet), allowing them to reach 95% of the ocean floor. At that depth, water pressure approaches 9,000 psi! Tethered to a research vessel with a long cable that provides power and receives images and telemetry, the ROV uses thrusters to move and position itself to get the best view or grab the most valuable sample with its robot arms. ROVs come in many sizes, from the monster machines that service offshore oil installations or bury cables, to the suitcase-sized SpiderBOTs made famous in the movie Titanic.

In 1999, Nauticos used an ROV operated by the Naval Oceanographic Office to discover wreckage from the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga, sunk at the Battle of Midway in 1942. You can read about this project and the history of the battle in The Search for the Japanese Fleet. Nauticos and the SeaWord Foundation plan to work with NOAA’s Deep Discoverer ROV in early March to return to the site and capture hi-def video of the wreckage, far superior to what was possible nearly 20 years ago.

This 4-ton artifact was recovered from 10,000 feet using ROV technology.
This 4-ton artifact was recovered from 10,000 feet depth using ROV technology.

Nauticos also used the ROV Remora in 1999 to identify the wreck of the Israeli submarine Dakar, and returned to the site the following year to recover a 4-ton artifact from the seafloor at 10,000 feet. Operators on the ship high above watched through remote cameras to operate mechanical arms and manipulators to attach a lifting line to the structure of the artifact so that a winch could slowly lift it to the surface. After nine hours, the conning tower of Dakar emerged from the sea after resting there for 31 years. The tower is now on display at the Naval Museum in Haifa, a memorial to the 69 sailors who lost their lives on the ill-fated warship. This story is chronicled in Never Forgotten: The Search and Recovery of Israel’s Lost Submarine Dakar. This 3-minute video, produced for the Maryland Science Center Titanic exhibition, includes scenes from that spectacularly successful Dakar recovery mission.

NOAA’s Undersea Robot Deep Discoverer

D2 discovers the remnants of asphalt volcanoes, or “tar lilies.” Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Okeanos Explorer Gulf of Mexico 2014 Expedition.
D2 discovers the remnants of asphalt volcanoes, or “tar lilies.” Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Okeanos Explorer Gulf of Mexico 2014 Expedition.

At a depth of nearly four miles, with four tons of crushing pressure on every square inch, in the pitch black of the deep ocean, the Remotely Operating Vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer lurks. Known as D2, the robot is operated by a team on the NOAA mother ship Okeanos, and via miles of cable sends back exquisite high-definition imagery from the unexplored seafloor. D2 is tethered to its sister vehicle, Seirios, which lights D2 from above and with its own cameras allows operators an expanded view of the ROV and its surroundings. Seirios in turn is dangled from Okeanos at the end of miles of steel-armored cable with a fiber-optic core. The cable provides power to the duo and is a conduit for communications and telemetry.

D2 illuminates its surroundings with brilliant LED lights, allowing its nine video cameras to capture an unparalleled view of the seafloor and close-up glimpses of the remarkable creatures that lurk there. And via telepresence, anyone, anywhere with an Internet connection can follow the excitement of discovery with scientists, watching it unfold as it happens. D2 can also grab samples of marine life and geology for further study topside.

The Nauticos-SeaWord team will be looking with great anticipation to seeing what D2 reveals when it dives on the Battle of Midway site near the end of its current mission to explore the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument in early March.


NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program

The NOAA Midway dives have been planned for March 5-7, subject to weather and other unforeseen circumstances that are a part of life at sea. Stay tuned for further details about how to follow this expedition. The vessel is currently in Hawaiian waters testing equipment in preparation for its main mission which will begin around February 23rd: Map

The Okeanos Explorer program is one of exploration and discovery, designed to achieve a first-look at the unknown seafloor that will inspire further research. It is a highly collaborative process that involves the entire science community, so that new discoveries are available to everyone. All data is shared in real-time during the cruise through telepresence. Educational outreach is a major component, and public access is encouraged, including through the SeaWord Foundation. The current mission is to explore the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, encompassing the waters around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It is the single largest fully protected conservation area under the U.S. flag, and one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the preserve includes deep and shallow coral reefs, sea mounts harboring thousands of marine species, hundreds of islets home to 14 million seabirds, and cultural resources of importance to native Hawaiians as well as historians of World War II.


Join us at the Bottom of the Sea

The Search for the Japanese Fleet Continues

Seventeen years ago, a small group of explorers set out to locate the wreckage of the Japanese Fleet sunk at the Battle of Midway. Their purpose was to use advanced technology to solve mysteries of the deep sea, to commemorate fallen heroes, to show to students the rewards of the pursuit of scientific and technical education, and to share with the public the thrill of discovery. On two expeditions, forty-one scientists and engineers sailed with forty-four ship’s crew (plus one owl), and together scoured the ocean floor over three miles down. In time, they were rewarded with sonar and visual evidence of one of the great ships they sought: the 800-foot long, 40,000 ton aircraft carrier Kaga. Fewer than two dozen people have had the opportunity to see imagery of this wreckage in real time, in person, and I can assure you it is an experience one can never forget.

But there is so much more to locate and learn; the wreckage we found, though definitive, is a small fraction of the vast historical treasure awaiting us. Join us as we return to the site of our 1999 discovery and be among the first to see this unknown landscape and further explore the echoes of history as we continue our Search for the Japanese Fleet.

Check this space in the coming weeks to learn how to connect via telepresence and experience the expedition first hand. Meanwhile, be sure to visit and like our Facebook pages Nauticos and SeaWord Foundation.


Return to Midway

NOAAS Okeanos Explorer
NOAAS Okeanos Explorer

In early March, Nauticos and the SeaWord Foundation will plan to participate in a NOAA expedition to survey the Northwest Hawaiian Islands marine preserve that will include a return to the site of the Battle of Midway.  This will advance the prospects of making a historic discovery of the aircraft carriers of the Imperial Japanese fleet that were lost there on June 4, 1942, and in partnership with IMMF will serve to commemorate the brave sailors and airmen who fought there.  This cooperative venture will use the latest tools and techniques to map the area and investigate underwater contacts, and our participation is made possible by a concept called telepresence.  The NOAA vessel Okeanos Explorer will be working in the Pacific area early in 2016; using instant global communication links, data will be relayed to exploration command centers (ECC) located in Rhode Island and Maryland.  We will interact with the ship from these locations to manage the survey and see the images relayed from the ocean floor in near real time.

SeaWord’s Education team will man the Silver Spring, Maryland ECC and is working on a plan to share this expedition with educators and the general public both through real-time web links and post-mission content. Check this space for more information in the coming weeks.

Hemispherical Swim

As told by Amelia expedition First Mate Joe Litchfield, currently at sea (as usual) on a research vessel tending tsunami buoys in the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean…

I had an interesting day yesterday and I thought I’d share it with you guys as you’ve known me since Moby Dick was a guppy. Well, like most plans at sea (and I suspect on land as well – but I can’t really remember), our idea for the customary, mortifying and abusing ceremony of crossing the Equator (for the Pollywogs on board) and the transiting of the International Dateline (for the wannabe Dragons) did not work out.

Here’s what happened: Instead of the humiliating aforementioned ritual – which definitely puts most sailors off their feed for a day or so – we decided to go for a swim. Not just any swim but a swim for the record books! At least for our recorded ship’s log book. The “plan” was to station our research vessel exactly at the 180 degree line and the Equator; thus, a lap around the vessel would allow a swimmer to travel from the Eastern Hemisphere to the Western and from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern. This would also take us from one day to the next (crossing the Dateline) and from winter to summer. We all thought this a capital idea and the timing was perfect as we were to be at this point at about 1200UTC to further add to the allure. This can only be done at two places on earth and we figured that not many sailors have ever done it.

The crew and clients were all mustered at the Baltic door (an opening in the hull to allow access to the sea for pilot boats) on the main deck located just abaft of the beam to starboard. We set up a shark watch – an important thing in these waters. Everyone had a swimsuit on, except me – I had only some cut off dungarees – and we were just awaiting 2nd Mate Steve at the helm to get the vessel into final position for the swim.

When Steve called over the radio saying we were “Here,” I, being senior man on deck, stood back a couple of fathoms from the opened Baltic door and paced briskly athwart ships and did (from what I was told later) an admirable dive for an ole sea dog into the Pacific Ocean. I was followed closely by R.W. (Rough Water) Watkins, one of our clients. He’s from Louisiana and he’s a good guy for a back deck bayou buoy boy; but I digress.

We surfaced from the dive and were immediately swept forward. The current was brutal. It looked like we were steaming at about 5 knots with an old Evinrude outboard with a bad carburetor attached to our backsides. We weren’t prepared for this. I was treading water, which I’ve been accused of before but it took on new meaning.

I hailed the gang at the Baltic door telling them not to go in the water. Thank goodness they didn’t but they did not react to a potential rescue situation either – it being after all a historic swim. The ship’s bo’s’n, Paulie, finally determined that R.W. and I were indeed somewhat in distress and fastened a line around himself, jumped in and swam after us. He looked like a large Mark Spitz in the water with his long hair streaming astern and we were some happy that he had taken action. Old Paulie got to R.W. and me just as the line he was towing came to the bitter end. I managed to tie a bowline and made it fast to my left wrist.  R.W. was ahead of me and he managed to hold on as the deck crew was now mobilized to haul us back to the Jacobs ladder.

All the while this scene was unfolding, deckhand Mikey was prattling on about life lines, buoys, radios, life jackets, etc. We call him Alligator Man – because he’s all mouth and no ears. I darn near let go of the line and set back adrift rather than listen to his drivel. It took a while and some hard work on the crew’s part, but we finally made it aboard, unceremoniously, I can assure you. The crew, except for Alligator Man, knew better than to say anything except “You O.K., Joe?”  “Finest-kind,” I would reply.

I proceeded to the wheelhouse and relieved Steve so he could go swimming after we turned the vessel side-to the current.  R.W. brought me a cup of coffee with a knowing smile, and I said “Good day to be at at sea, by golly!”

Cap'n Joe Litchfield at the Salty Dawg Saloon in Homer, AK
Cap’n Joe Litchfield at the Salty Dawg Saloon in Homer, AK

The Real Bond

Discovered while researching my next book:  Central to Allied victories in WWII, including the Battle of Midway and the sinking of the Japanese submarine I-52, was the success of cryptanalysts in the breaking of German and Japanese codes. One of the keys to the decoding process was having some idea of phrases that might be in the messages to be decoded. These “cribs” vastly reduced the effort required. But how to get cribs, i.e., already decoded messages (or fragments)? One scheme, proposed by a British naval commander, involved purposely ditching a captured German bomber in the English Channel, crewed by German-speaking, Luftwaffe-uniformed men, who would capture the expected German rescue boat (and its code settings and documents). Known as “Operation Ruthless,” the mission was approved, and a crew was recruited and trained, but was never carried out. The commander who proposed the daring undertaking (and volunteered to be the pilot) was none other than Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond series. These and other adventures as a wartime intelligence officer provided great inspiration for his popular novels. It is thought that Fleming’s boss, Admiral Hugh “Quex” Sinclair (known as “C” in official correspondence) was the model for James Bond’s boss “M” in the stories.

Rebuilt British decoding “Bombe” at Bletchley Park, designed by Alan Turing and others as featured in the recent movie Imitation Game.
Rebuilt British decoding “Bombe” at Bletchley Park, designed by Alan Turing and others as featured in the recent movie Imitation Game.

Dakar Report Issued

Sixteen years after its discovery by Nauticos, on August 31 the Israel Defense Forces gave the families of the 69 Israeli sailors killed in the sinking of the Israel Navy’s Dakar the complete report on the submarine’s disappearance 47 years ago. Nauticos submitted its report of technical findings and forensic studies in 2000. As told in my book, Never Forgotten: The Search and Discovery of Israel’s Lost Submarine Dakar, the evidence strongly supports a flooding accident in the forward compartment (torpedo room), leading to a loss of depth control and plunge to the bottom. According to the Times of Israel, “The Israel Navy’s investigations concluded that the demise of the Dakar was caused either by loss of control or a technical failure, but didn’t rule out the possibility that the submarine collided with another vessel.”

Nauticos found no evidence for collision, but this remains a popular theory in the Israeli Navy. Certainly, the bridge fin that we recovered in 2000 showed no signs of impact. For a collision to cause flooding in the bow, one would expect some evidence of damage; however, the bow of the vessel is intact and undisturbed.

The site has not been revisited since our 2000 survey and investigations, and there are no plans to return. May the 69 brave sailors of Dakar be never forgotten!

DAKAR Memorial - 21
The recovered bridge fin of INS Dakar, on display at the Israeli Naval Museum in Haifa.


MH-370 versus INS Dakar

The recent discovery of wreckage from the Malaysian Airliner Flight 370 adds several new parallels to the disappearance and search for the Israeli submarine INS Dakar, lost in 1968 and discovered by Nauticos in 1999. Just as MH-370, Dakar vanished without a trace, with no sign of trouble, and in communication up to the last moment. Grieving families of the sixty-nine sailors lost on Dakar felt a lack of closure not knowing what happened to their loved ones, just as with the families of the lost airliner. Similar questions were asked: Was there a mechanical or operational flaw that could be remedied in other vessels? Was the Captain at fault, or was he or a crew member acting with evil intent? Was the submarine sunk by an enemy? Was the crew still alive, captured or stranded? Was some kind of international conspiracy afoot? Initial search efforts with international support yielded not a trace. The submarine was declared lost with all hands.

Then, a year later, a piece of wreckage washed ashore on the Gaza strip. Just as with MH-370, this piece was analyzed for any clues. From where did it drift? Would marine growth suggest a particular origin? Would the condition of the piece tell us anything?

As events developed, the Dakar wreckage did not directly aid the search for the lost submarine – in fact, accepted interpretation of its condition and trajectory mislead subsequent efforts. However, the appearance of a tangible piece of the wreck inspired renewed endeavor, which led thirty years later to the discovery of Dakar, closure to families, and a memorial to the crew.

See Never Forgotten: The Search and Discovery of Israel’s lost Submarine Dakar for a saga of tragedy, discovery, and closure.


MH-370 piece found 16 months after disappearance; INS Dakar piece found 12 months after disappearance.

Blue Moon

You may already know that Friday is a full moon … not only that, it’s a Blue Moon! A “Blue Moon” is of course an “extra” full moon, i.e., 13 instead of the normal 12 in a year. Since the average lunar cycle is 29.53 days, there are usually three full moons in an astronomical season, but sometimes (every 2 or 3 years) a fourth one will squeeze in. Once in a blue moon.

(BTW, the moon is not colored blue … that can happen if there is lots of smoke or dust in the air and has nothing to do with the timing. The etymology of the term is thought to have derived from the obsolete word “belewe,” which meant “betrayer.” It was the evil betrayer extra full moon that had to be fit into the Christian ecclesiastical calendar and would sometimes have caused people to continue fasting for an extra month in accordance with Lent. “Belewe” was eventually shortened to “blue.” So they say ….)

To complicate matters, there are two definitions: The original one is astronomical, i.e., the third full moon in a season of four. This last occurred on August 20, 2013, and will not occur again until May 21, 2016. We’re going with the calendar definition – actually a misconception perpetrated by the March 1946 issue of Sky & Telescope and now popularly held – that is, the second full moon in a month. That last occurred September 30, 2012 (in my Eastern time zone), and will next occur on Friday! A bunch of us are going out for a full (blue) moon midnight kayak in Cape Porpoise harbor.  The one after that will be January 31, 2018. Not a good night for kayaking.

Blue_Moon_of_November_21_2010_viewed_from_Brooklyn_NY_USA_Canon_40D_Celestron_4SEBlue moon of November 21, 2010, viewed from Brooklyn NYUSA. Courtesy Astroval1