Changing Planet

Visualizing Alvin

A visualization of Alvin’s 4700+ dives over the last 5 decades. Photo by Jer Thorp

The graphic above is a visualization of more than 4,700 of the submersible Alvin‘s dives, over the last 5 decades (click it to view a larger version). I made it to get a better understanding of what a ‘typical’ Alvin dive might be—as you can see, there turned out to be quite a range. While a handful of dives get close to Alvin‘s maximum rating of 4,500 meters, there are many shallow dives as well (the median dive depth is 2275 meters). The visualization is also remarkable for what it doesn’t show: for example, note the gap in data starting in 1968, when Alvin sank to the bottom of the Atlantic and had to wait for a year to be recovered. You can read a detailed account of many of the dives represented in this graphic on Woods Hole’s Alvin history page.

Tomorrow I’ll be diving with population geneticist Dr. Sophie Plouviez and legendary submersible pilot Pat Hickey. Pat has logged almost 650 dives in Alvin, for a total of more than 1.5 million meters (932 miles)!

A visualization of Pat Hickey's 640+ dives in Alvin. Photo by Jer Thorp
A visualization of Pat Hickey’s 640+ dives in Alvin. Photo by Jer Thorp

We’ll be descending to Green Canyon in the Gulf of Mexico, a site noted for populations of vent tubeworms, deep-sea brittlestars, egg-eating clams, and Hesiocaeca methanicolaa, a strange species of ice worm which lives on mounds of methane ice. Along with species collection, we’ll be shooting video and taking hi-res stills from the ocean floor.

When I return to the surface world, I’ll share some data from the dive. I’ll also post a peek at some sketches I’ve been working on during my first day aboard the R/V Atlantis.

Jer Thorp is an artist and educator from Vancouver, Canada, currently living in New York. Coming from a background in genetics, his digital art practice explores the many-folded boundaries between science, data, art, and culture. Jer is an adjunct professor at ITP at NYU, the co-founder of The Office for Creative Research, and a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

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