WHOI Unveils New Pressure Test Facility

WOODS HOLE – The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution cut the ribbon yesterday for its new, state-of-the-art Pressure Test Facility.

The new testing vessel can simulate the pressures at the deepest areas of the ocean.

WHOI’s Director for the Center of Marine Robotics Dr. James Bellingham said it is key to make sure equipment can survive the great pressures of the water as it travels deeper.

“The external pressures that are pushing on are 15,000 pounds per square inch,” Bellingham said. “If you think of that in terms of elephants or cars or whatever you want, all of that is pressing in on every inch by inch part of [an object’s] surface.”

The equipment used by researchers in the ocean must be able to withstand those pressures and work properly.

“This Pressure Test Facility for us is part of making sure our equipment works,” Bellingham said. “Part of that basic test and evaluation which occurs before we send our equipment out into the ocean for the real work.”

Normal atmospheric pressure at sea level is around 15 pounds per square inch, which is 1,000 times less than the pressures at the ocean’s greatest depths.

Bellingham said the new facility will help WHOI with one of its goals of extending the reach of research from the Abyssal Zone of the ocean to the Hadal zone.

Much of the work that has been conducted in the ocean down to depths of three and a half miles down, which makes up about 98 percent of the ocean.

“That remaining 2 percent is quite a bit deeper and those are those external pressures increase another 50 percent,” Bellingham said. “To be able to go there we need to up our game basically, we need to use different materials.”

Bellingham said the equipment needs to be tested several times to verify they operate through a repeated number of cycles without failure.

“This is now an operational facility here and we will be working here 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.

The project was partly funded by a five-year, $5 million grant awarded in 2014 by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative Research Matching Grant Program.

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