Deep sea robot used on Cayman Trough goes missing

Scientists think Nereus imploded under extreme pressure

A remote control robot submarine that has explored the Cayman Trough has gone missing after a deep sea mission off the coast of New Zealand. 

The hybrid vehicle Nereus was confirmed lost on May 10 after diving 6.2 miles in the Kermadec Trench northeast of New Zealand.  

The underwater vehicle has been used by scientists over the years to explore the Cayman Trough, home to the deepest hydrothermal vents on earth. 

In 2009 and again in 2013, the Nereus was used by teams of oceanographers and astrobiologists to explore the deep seafloor of the Cayman Trough. 

In search of life in the extreme seafloor environments, researchers used the underwater vehicle to collect video footage and samples from the Mid Cayman Rise, a deep ultra-slow-moving mid-ocean ridge between the Cayman Islands and Jamaica. 

“Nereus helped us explore places we’ve never seen before and ask questions we never thought to ask,” said Timothy Shank, a biologist at Woods Hole and chief scientist on the project in New Zealand. “It was a one-of-a-kind vehicle that even during its brief life, brought us amazing insights into the unexplored deep ocean, addressing some of the most fundamental scientific problems of our time about life on Earth.” 

Scientists think Nereus imploded under extreme pressure as great as 16,000 pounds per square inch on its latest expedition in ocean’s hadal region, which is between 3 to 7 miles deep.  

“Extreme exploration of this kind is never without risk, and the unfortunate loss of Nereus only underscores the difficulty of working at such immense depths and pressures,” said Woods Hole’s director of research, Larry Madin.  

“Fortunately, there was no human injury as a consequence of this loss,” he added. 

President and director of the oceanographic institution, Susan Avery, said, “Nereus may be gone, but the discoveries it enabled and the things it helped us learn will be an indelible part of its legacy.” 


Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution chief scientist Chris German pictured with the Nereus submarine in the George Town harbour in 2009 during a break from an exploration mission of the Cayman Trough. – PHOTO: NORMA CONNOLLY

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