UD faculty and students discuss the use of the submersible Cyclops 1 to conduct research dives.

Dive success

CEOE students, faculty participate in Delaware Bay research dives aboard Cyclops 1


1:54 p.m., Nov. 4, 2015--“Daiber this is Cyclops, come in Daiber, over,” Danielle Ferraro called from below the surface of the Delaware Bay aboard Cyclops 1, a submersible designed for deep-sea research.

Ferraro is a second year master’s student studying oceanography in University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. Last Thursday, she was a lucky member of the UD scientific research team that dove in the OceanGate human operated submersible near the outer breakwater of the Delaware Bay. It is the first time that Cyclops 1 has been used on the East Coast of the United States.

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“We looked at the wall, imaged it with sonar and saw the sediment patterns on the seabed,” she said.

It’s an experience she calls “a highlight of her time as a UD student.” In particular, she enjoyed operating the radio communications between the submersible and the R/V Joanne Daiber, which communicated every 15 minutes during dives. She said participating in the dive also stimulated discussions on how the submersible could be used as a research platform.

“I study benthic organisms, sea scallops, so I’m thinking, could we bring this to my study site, could we see sea scallops on the sea floor; how could this be used with other projects here at UD? It was an interesting first look into what we could possibly use the sub for in the future,” she said.

The research dive was among the first test dives conducted by UD and OceanGate Oct. 28-30, from UD’s base of marine operations on the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes. 

Designed for deep-sea research, the submersible can descend up to 1,640 feet below the ocean surface. It is equipped with the latest sonar and an advanced visual imaging system capable of imaging surfaces in even the murkiest water.

Each dive included a pilot, a scientist and three crew members. A dozen more people, including boat captain and crew, observed the dives from aboard the Daiber, CEOE’s newest research vessel, while trained divers and others from the Delaware State Police maritime and scuba units provided support.

Exploring potential partnerships

UD began hosting Cyclops 1 on the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in August as CEOE and OceanGate, a privately held company that provides manned submersible assets and services for industry, research and exploration, began exploring a potential longer-term agreement and collaboration.

CEOE’s base of marine operations in Lewes provides critical facilities and assets that are key to dives of this nature. The scientific dives were designed to help tease out whether the technology is useful for the college’s scientists and students.

“It’s been exciting to view this technology through the eyes of our faculty and students who participated in dives. I am thrilled about the possibilities that this collaboration can open,” said CEOE Acting Dean Mohsen Badiey, who is working to advance ideas for joint work with industry.

“We look forward to continuing the relationship with University of Delaware in order to expand humanity’s understanding of the ocean,” said Stockton Rush, chief executive officer of OceanGate.

The proposed UD-OceanGate partnership is part of Badiey’s broader vision to leverage the college’s strengths to solve global problems in water, energy, cybersecurity and health care through industry collaborations to conduct advanced research.

“The idea is to tackle big problems through applied research, practical engineering, and technology development and transfer,” Badiey said.

“As CEOE continues its research and teaching in traditional areas like oceanography, geography and geological sciences, we want to expand our CEOE footprint to include innovative industrial projects and partnerships, too. Cyclops is just one example of the tools that might become available to UD faculty, students and collaborators.”

Changes in latitudes expand thinking

Doug Miller, professor in the School of Marine Science and Policy and Ferraro’s adviser, said he believes that these are just the types of experiences students need. 

“Educating students is one of our most important missions here at UD. Opportunities like this allow our students to grow in a lot of different ways,” he said.

In his own work, Miller is curious whether the submersible can be useful in surveying ocean structures, which provide important habitats for organisms, fish and other marine life. Having a rapid way to survey would be a big plus in doing environmental impact studies, monitoring and other work, he said.

Art Trembanis, an associate professor of oceanography who has been instrumental in nurturing the partnership with OceanGate, agrees.

“We typically study the marine environment in a lab, a beaker or from a satellite or the surface of a ship. Changing your vertical dimension definitely gives you a different perspective. My students and I came out of the sub grinning ear-to-ear,” Trembanis said.

Fun factor aside, Trembanis added that to remain competitive faculty and students must continually push the boundaries of their technical literacy and competence, which hinges on advanced technology. Bringing a human operated submersible to campus, he said, creates unique opportunities for students to “dare greatly” and “think big.” 

“In addition to the excitement from my marine science students, I had engineering students in my class considering how they could use this type of technology in their undergraduate capstone projects,” said Trembanis. “And it sparked conversations with colleagues about how neat it would be for history or philosophy students to benefit, too, by considering the vehicle’s history and development over time or ocean exploration as a field.”

About OceanGate Inc.

OceanGate Inc. is a privately held company based in Everett, Washington. Founded in 2009, the company provides manned submersible services for industry, research and exploration. 

OceanGate submersibles provide deep sea access for underwater site survey and inspection, scientific research and data collection, technology testing and film production.

OceanGate’s Cyclops class manned submersibles represent an innovative approach to submersible design that takes advantage of new materials, existing commercial-off-the-shelf technologies and efficient operations to support the world’s growing need for on-site, real-time collaboration at depth.

Article by Karen B. Roberts

Video by Leah Dodd

Photos courtesy of Chris Petrone, Doug White and Leah Dodd

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