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A Conversation with Alvin expedition leader Randy Holt

Alvin expedition leader Randy Holt prepares the sub to launch during the science verification expedition. (Photo by Marley Parker, ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Alvin expedition leader Randy Holt prepares the sub to launch during the science verification expedition. (Photo by Marley Parker, ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

What are your responsibilities as expedition leader?

I manage the mechanical and electrical teams that work on Alvin. I work with the ship's chief mate to assign roles for launch and recovery operations, coordinate with the chief scientist on specific preparations for each mission, and communicate with the captain on any ship operations required for the dives. I maintain documentation to ensure the vehicle is operating within requirements of its U.S. Navy certification. I also act as a liaison with the shoreside management and engineering teams, and I set maintenance schedules to ensure all preventative maintenance is met. 

You're also training for a few specific positions on board. What are your other roles on the ship?

During this cruise, I've been working through the training progression of launch coordinator, A-frame operator, and Alvin pilot-in-training (PIT). 

This is my first science cruise as an expedition leader and my first science dive in Alvin. So far, I've done four dives in the sub, three as a PIT and one as an observer. 

What did you do before this? Why did you want to join the Alvin team? 

I'm pretty new to the Alvin group, I joined in January of 2021. Before coming here, I spent a decade working in the private and commercial sectors of crewed submersibles. Shallow submersibles have more options for design, but I've always been interested in working more with deep submergence vehicles. 

In deep submergence, the challenges are greater. Deep submergence is moving out of the photic zone and into abyssal and hadal zones. Tackling complex challenges and crossing into the new frontiers associated with that shift is hugely appealing to me. 

I'm also excited because Alvin and WHOI have a long legacy of being pioneers for ocean exploration and technology-it feels great to be a part of that. 

What makes the Alvin team so extraordinary? 

The only way Alvin gets in the water every day is through intentional coordination and solid teamwork-those things are essential. The sub will stay down for eight to nine hours. When it comes back, there may be systems that need to be repaired. The team splits up to achieve those tasks-everyone has a specialty and it's a divide and conquer mentality. There are some days that the electrical team is up all night; some days it's the mechanical engineers. Everyone is flexible and willing to tackle the long hours. That's the only way to have it turned around and ready to go for operations the very next day.

From your perspective, what has been the most striking thing about this expedition? 

What's most impressive to me is that we are essentially operating a brand-new vehicle. When we pulled into San Juan three weeks ago, we had completed just one dive over 6,000 meters to achieve our new depth certification. When we started the first leg of this expedition, the sub repeatedly went to 6,000 meters-and made it look easy. That is a huge accomplishment and a true testament to the efforts of the engineering teams, the technicians, and the ship's crew. They make it look like we've been conducting operations at these depths for the past 50 years, but in reality, we're going almost 50 percent deeper than we've gone before.