Technology of R/V Petrel Aids in Major Discoveries

November 06, 2019
by Chris 

If you’ve been following the many discoveries of the R/V Petrel expeditions, you likely have given some thought to the type of equipment used by the pioneering researchers. Founded—and funded—by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Petrel has been able to invest in high-tech equipment that allows the team to see the ocean floor in ways that were once impossible. Here's a look at some of the amazing technology of R/V Petrel.


Purchased in 2016, the Research Vessel Petrel was a personal project of Allen’s, who was fascinated with discovery and the secrets hidden deep within the Pacific Ocean. While the original incarnation of Petrel was outfitted with high-end technology, a 2016-2017 retrofit expanded her capabilities with state-of-the-art technology that gave Allen and the crew eyes that could, in effect, penetrate deep into the darkest depths of the ocean.

Technology of R/V Petrel

After the retrofit, Petrel was ready for deep-sea searches, with a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) capable of reaching depths of 19,685 feet, the Argus 6000 ROV. The Argus has since been responsible for much of the incredible, crystal-clear footage that Petrel has released of its deep-sea discoveries. Accompanying the ROV is an autonomous underwater vehicle, the Remus 6000 AUV, and a multi-beam echo-sounder.

Argus 6000 ROV

Argus 6000, a key piece of the technology of R/V Petrel

Argus 6000, a key piece of the technology of R/V Petrel

The remotely-operated vehicle is an integral tool in the team’s research and discovery. Without it, Petrel’s crew would have no means of photographing the underwater discoveries, especially not with such high resolution. The Argus 6000 features a 200 lb payload capacity, sonar-based navigation, built-in jaws for object movement, 750 kg of horizontal thrust, and a R2Sonic MBES echosounder. To prevent Argus from being pulled loose by the strong deep-water currents, she’s tethered to Petrel by a 17 mm-thick cable.

Remus 6000 AUV

The Remus 6000 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is capable of mapping an area up to 58 square miles per deployment. R/V Petrel owns the only privately-held Remus 6000 AUV, which can travel at speeds of up to 5 knots and is rated to dive up to 6000 meters, for up to 22 hours at a time.

Multibeam Echosounder

NOAA illustration of how a Multibeam Echosounder works

NOAA illustration of how a Multibeam Echosounder works

A Multibeam Echosounder is an advanced sonar mapping system. The MBES installed on Petrel comprises a hull-mounted multibeam system, a singlebeam system mounted on the hull, and the BlueView M450 2D multibeam imaging sonar on the ROV. The MBES is responsible for providing scans of the sea floor, which helps to locate anomalies such as the sunken ships of the War in the Pacific.

The echosounder returns an image of the ocean floor that shows obstacles through the use of sound waves that bounce off objects and return to MBES to produce an image.

Without this array of high-tech equipment, Petrel could not be as successful as she is discovering the location of so many historic World War II ships. In 2019 alone, the technology of R/V Petrel was instrumental in uncovering 14 different vessels, lost in actions ranging from the Battle of Midway, to the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

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