The vast expanse of the ocean have always captivated human curiosity. As a result, submarines have emerged as powerful tools for exploring the mysteries hidden beneath the surface.

These remarkable vessels have not only played significant roles in military operations but have also revolutionised the field of marine exploration. Lets dive into the world of ocean and sea roving submarines. We’ll, explore their historical significance, famous wrecks, military and commercial applications, their capabilities in mapping the seabed, the depths they can reach, and the extraordinary pressures they can withstand.

Historical Significance

The concept of submarines can be traced back centuries. However it was not until the late 19th century that practical underwater vessels came into existence. In 1800, the first known submarine, the Nautilus, was tested by Robert Fulton, an American inventor.

A cross view of Robert Fulton’s 1806 submarine. It had to start somewhere.

The Nautilus paved the way for further developments. It also helped lead to the construction of the CSS Hunley during the American Civil War. This became the first submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship.

Military and Commercial Applications

Roving submarines have been extensively utilised in both military and commercial domains. In the military sector, submarines have played vital roles in naval warfare, offering stealth capabilities and strategic advantages. Remote-controlled military submarines, such as the U.S. Navy’s Seawolf-class submarines or the British Royal Navy’s Astute-class submarines, have become crucial assets for maintaining maritime security.

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On the commercial front, remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are widely used for various purposes. These vehicles assist in underwater exploration, oil and gas exploration, deep-sea mining, and the maintenance of undersea infrastructure. This includes oil rigs and underwater cables.

Mapping the Seabed

One of the primary tasks of ocean and sea roving submarines is to map the ocean beds. To achieve this, they employ a range of advanced technologies. Bathymetry, the measurement of ocean depths, is commonly carried out using multibeam sonar systems. These systems emit sound waves, which bounce off the seabed and return to the submarine. In turn these allow for the creation of detailed maps.

A Map of the Mariana trench. Just getting to its location is hard enough in an ocean renowned for storms.

Another technique employed is side-scan sonar, which uses sound waves to produce high-resolution images of the seafloor. This method helps in identifying underwater topography and locating objects of interest, such as wrecks or geological formations.

The Mariana Trench

Mapping the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans, has been a significant endeavour that has relied on advanced technologies and deep-sea exploration techniques. Although it is challenging to fully map the trench’s vast expanse due to its extreme depths and rugged terrain, scientists have made remarkable progress in understanding this enigmatic feature.

Multibeam Sonar Surveys:

Multibeam sonar systems are crucial tools used in mapping the Mariana Trench. These systems emit sound waves in a fan-shaped pattern from the submarine. They then bounce off the seafloor and return to the vessel.

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By measuring the time it takes for the sound waves to travel and return, the depth and shape of the trench can be determined. Multibeam sonar surveys provide high-resolution bathymetric data, allowing scientists to create detailed maps of the trench’s contours.

Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs):

ROVs play a pivotal role in deep-sea exploration and mapping. Equipped with advanced sonar systems, cameras, and other sensors, these unmanned vehicles are deployed into the depths of the ocean and the Mariana Trench to capture detailed images and collect data.

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ROVs can navigate the rugged topography and withstand the extreme pressures of the trench. This helps provide scientists with valuable visual information to enhance mapping efforts.


Manned submersibles have also been used to explore and map the Mariana Trench. These specialised vessels, such as James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenger, are designed to withstand immense pressures and are able to dive to extreme depths.

The Trieste was the first manned submarine to explore the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Submersibles are equipped with high-definition cameras and sensors to capture images and collect data. This aids in the mapping and documentation of the trench’s geological features.

Deep-Sea Mapping Projects:

Various international organisations, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), have undertaken dedicated deep-sea mapping projects to survey the Mariana Trench.

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These projects involve collaborative efforts, advanced equipment, and data-sharing initiatives to create comprehensive maps of the trench’s bathymetry and geological features.

Data Integration:

Mapping the Mariana Trench involves integrating data from various sources. Bathymetric data collected through sonar surveys, imagery and videos captured by ROVs and submersibles, and other geological and geophysical data are combined to create comprehensive maps that provide a holistic understanding of the trench’s morphology and geological processes.

Not all submarines are manned. And if you’re thinking is this a Hydroid REMUS 100 and Atlas Elektronik Seafox-I….then you’re correct.

While our knowledge of the Mariana Trench continues to evolve, the mapping efforts have significantly enhanced our understanding of this extreme environment.

By uncovering the intricate details of the trench’s topography and geological features, scientists can gain insights into plate tectonics, deep-sea ecosystems, and the unique conditions that exist in the deepest parts of the oceans

Some Famous Finds

Ocean and sea roving submarines have played a crucial role in the discovery and exploration of famous shipwrecks. Here are some notable examples:

RMS Titanic:

Perhaps the most iconic shipwreck of all time, the RMS Titanic was famously discovered by a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) called the Nautile in 1985. The exploration and documentation of the Titanic’s wreckage have provided valuable insights into the tragic event and the condition of the ship.

USS Monitor:

The USS Monitor, a Union ironclad warship from the American Civil War, sank off the coast of North Carolina in 1862. In 1973, the wreck was located and explored by a submersible called Alvin. The retrieval of the ship’s iconic revolving turret was a significant achievement in underwater archaeology.

SS Thistlegorm:

Located in the Red Sea, the SS Thistlegorm was a British merchant ship sunk by German bombers during World War II. Remote-operated submersibles and scuba divers have extensively explored and documented this wreck, revealing a treasure trove of military vehicles, weaponry, and other artifacts.

USS Yorktown:

The USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier that participated in several significant naval battles during World War II, was discovered and explored by manned submarines in 1998.

The ghostly apparition of the USS Yorktown on the seabed as photographed by a manned submarine.

The wreck, lying off the coast of Midway Atoll, provides a fascinating glimpse into the events that unfolded during the war.

SS Edmund Fitzgerald:

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald, a renowned Great Lakes freighter, sank in Lake Superior during a storm in 1975. In 1995, an ROV named Viper was used to survey and document the wreckage. It shed new light on the vessel’s final moments and the conditions it faced during the storm.

HMAS Sydney and HSK Kormoran:

The HMAS Sydney, an Australian light cruiser, engaged in a fierce battle with the German raider HSK Kormoran during World War II. In 2008, the wrecks of both vessels were located and examined by ROVs, uncovering new details about the battle and the fate of the ships.

These are just a few examples of famous shipwrecks that have been discovered or visited by roving submarines. Each exploration contributes to our understanding of maritime history and offers valuable insights into the events surrounding these tragic incidents.

Deep-Sea Exploration and Pressure Tolerance

Ocean and sea roving submarines possess the remarkable capability to explore the deepest parts of the oceans. The deepest known point, the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, reaches a staggering depth of approximately 36,000 feet (10,972 meters). Specialised submarines, like James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenger, have descended to these depths, offering scientists invaluable insights into the extreme environments of the deep sea.

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The pressure at such depths is immense, exerting forces that can crush most objects. Submarines designed for extreme depths have to withstand enormous pressure to ensure the safety of the crew and the integrity of the vessel. These submarines are constructed using strong materials, such as high-strength steel alloys and titanium, which can withstand pressures exceeding 1,000 atmospheres (approximately 15,000 pounds per square inch).

The Nautile. Possibly the world’s most famous roving submarine.

To counteract the immense pressure, these submarines employ a combination of engineering techniques. The most common approach is to create a pressure hull, a robust structure that houses the crew and critical systems. The pressure hull is designed to distribute the external pressure evenly, preventing implosions and maintaining structural integrity.

Moreover, the submarines are equipped with ballast systems and variable buoyancy control to adjust their depth and manage the pressure. By controlling the amount of water in their ballast tanks, submarines can either increase or decrease their overall density, allowing them to rise or descend in the water column.

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To protect against potential leaks or breaches, these submarines are also equipped with sophisticated sealing mechanisms. These mechanisms include specially designed hatches, watertight compartments, and advanced sealing materials to maintain the integrity of the pressure hull.

Deeper Still

Ocean and sea roving submarines have revolutionised our understanding of the depths of the oceans and seas. Through their historical significance, from the early prototypes to the advanced vessels of today, these submarines have pushed the boundaries of human exploration. They have played vital roles in military operations, mapping the seabed, and facilitating commercial activities.

The famous wrecks associated with submarines serve as reminders of the risks and challenges involved in underwater operations. However, advancements in technology and engineering have significantly enhanced the capabilities of these vessels, allowing them to withstand immense pressures and explore the deepest parts of the ocean.

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As our knowledge of the world beneath the waves expands, ocean and sea roving submarines continue to push the limits of human exploration. With ongoing advancements and innovations, these remarkable vessels will undoubtedly unlock further mysteries and contribute to our understanding of the vast and mesmerising underwater realm.