TOKYO--A key component of the world's deepest diving uncrewed submersible has been lost at sea. The 29 May loss off Japan of a rover attached to the Kaiko remotely operated vehicle could disrupt a new sea-floor drilling program and other marine research.
Kaiko was surveying sites for the initial holes of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program in 4700-meter-deep Pacific Ocean waters southwest of Tokyo when typhoon seas cut short the dive. When Kaiko surfaced, it was missing its instrumented rover, which detaches from the main body to get a closer look at targets. Its tethering cable had snapped.
The support ship is now searching for the rover, which can emit a radio beacon for about 10 days. "We haven't given up yet," says Shozo Tashiro, head of Kaiko planning for the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center (JAMSTEC) in Yokosuka.
Kaiko was put into service in 1995 and can dive to 11,000 meters, enabling it to explore the deepest ocean trenches. Replacing the rover would cost far less than the $38 million spent to build the entire system, Tashiro says. But it would take time, because its sensors and components were specially engineered to withstand extreme pressures. Meanwhile, an array of research projects--including deep ocean biological exploration and more drilling surveys--are on hold. JAMSTEC hopes to fill some gaps with other submersibles.