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Upgrading Alvin: a famous sub gets a high-tech makeover.

The ocean covers 70 percent of Earth's surface. But scientists have explored only a small fraction of it. For the past 49 years, a submersible named Alvin has been helping to change that. Now, the sub is getting a $40 million upgrade. That will allow scientists to learn more about our oceans than ever before.

Alvin first plunged into the Atlantic Ocean in 1964. Since then, it has made more than 4,600 dives around the world. It's explored the 1912 shipwreck of the "unsinkable" Titanic. It's also found strange new forms of ocean life.

The new-and-improved Alvin will be able to dive 30 percent deeper--to about 6,500 meters (21,000 feet). At that depth, the weight of the water above will put a lot of pressure on the sub. "If you take a Styrofoam cup down to a couple thousand meters, the great pressure of the ocean will cause it to crinkle up," says Kurt Uetz of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Alvin, though, is designed so it won't crumple under pressure.

The upgraded Alvin is scheduled to set out on one of its first missions this December. It will study organisms living near volcanoes and superhot vents at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Check out some of the sub's cool new features.

SAY CHEESE: Three new high-definition video cameras have LED lights to record in the deep, murky ocean.

ROBOTIC ARMS: Alvin's arms hold tools and grab samples, like animals and rocks. New hinges allow the arms

CRITTER COLLECTOR: A new basket holds equipment, like tubes used to scoop up seafloor samples and nets to collect sea creatures. There's even a "slurp gun" to suck up organisms. "It's a little bit like vacuum-cleaning the carpet," says Susan Humphris, a geologist at Woods Hole.

ROOMIER CABIN: Squeezing a pilot and two passengers inside Alvin's old cabin used to be a tight fit. The cabin had about as much space as the inside of a minivan. The crew's new work area is 18 percent larger.

MORE VIEWS: The old Alvin had just three windows. The upgraded sub has five.

PRESSURE-PROOF: Alvin's passenger cabin is a large metal sphere. Its 7.1 centimeter (2.8 inch)-thick wails protect scientists from crushing water pressure. The sub's frame is also coated in a special foam. It's made of billions of tiny, air-filled glass bubbles trapped in a plastic-like material. The hard foam resists crumpling under extreme pressure, protecting the sub. It's also buoyant, helping to lift the hefty sub when it's time to resurface.


Lexile Level 890; Guided Reading Level R


Learn how upgrades will allow a scientific submersible to explore more of the ocean.


Obtain an empty 2-liter soda bottle, a ketchup packet, and water.


1. Place the ketchup packet inside the soda bottle. Fill the bottle to the top with water. Screw the lid on tightly.

2. Squeeze the sides of the bottle with your hands. Ask:

* What happened to the packet? (It sank.)

* Why did the packet sink? (Squeezing the bottle increases the pressure on the packet and any air trapped inside. This makes the packet denser, so it sinks.)

3. Release the pressure on the bottle. Ask:

* What happened to the packet? (It rose.)

* Why did the packet rise? (When you release the pressure on the bottle, the air in the packet expands. This increases the buoyancy of the packet, so it rises.)

4. Explain that submarines have tanks that can be filled with water to increase the sub's density so it sinks. The tanks can then be filled with air to increase the sub's buoyancy so it rises.


* Why did Alvin get an upgrade? (so it could dive deeper and study unexplored parts of the ocean)

* How do the upgrades protect Alvin from intense water pressure? (Its cabin is a thick metal sphere. Its frame is coated in a special foam that resists crumpling.)


For more information on Woods Hole's underwater expeditions, visit:


Use the skills sheet, "Review an Article," on p. T7 to have students answer critical-thinking questions about the text.

Common Core State Standard Reading Informational Text: 1

Review an article

In "Upgrading Alvin" (pp. 8-9), you read how the Alvin submersible is getting a high-tech makeover. Reread the article. Then use this skills sheet to write a review of the article.



This article was about--

I learned the following three facts from the article:




The title of one of the diagram boxes in the article is--

This box explained--

I thought this article was--because--

Something else I would like to learn about this topic is--

* Review an Article (Reproducible, T7)

Answers will vary.


Dive Sites

In "Upgrading Alvin" (pp. 8-9), you read about a famous scientific submersible. Alvin has dived thousands of times all over the world making many important discoveries. Use the map below to answer the questions about the locations of some of the sub's dive sites.

Key Dates

1964     Alvin's first dive

1966     Located a submerged bomb

1971     Attacked by blue marlin

1974     First up-close look at the Mid
         Atlantic Ridge, an underwater
         mountain range

1977     Explored volcanic vents

1986     Explored sunken Titanic

1994     Dives to record 4,500 meters

1996     Studies life around decaying
         whale bodies on seafloor

2004     Completes 4,000th dive

1. Alvin made its first dive into which ocean?

(A) Pacific

(B) Atlantic

(C) Indian

(D) Arctic

2. In 1974, Alvin studied which of the following?

(A) the Mid-Atlantic Ridge

(B) volcanic vents

(C) decaying whale bodies

(D) the Titanic

3. Near which of these continents did Alvin help locate a submerged bomb?

(A) North America

(B) Africa

(C) South America

(D) Antarctica

4. When Alvin explored volcanic vents in 1977, it was closest to which line of latitude?

(A) Tropic of Capricorn

(B) Tropic of Cancer

(C) 30[degrees]N

(D) equator

5. Most of the dive sites noted on the map were located south of the equator.

(A) true

(B) false

* Dive Sites (Reproducible, T8)

1. b 2. a 3. b 4. d 5. b
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Title Annotation:physical science
Author:Hsu, Jeremy
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2013
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