RPI professor who spent time in submersible weighs in on Titan catastrophe

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While the people who officials said Thursday were presumed dead were aboard a submersible for the purpose of touring the Titanic wreckage, researchers also visit the depths of the ocean to gather information.

A local professor has been down 2,500 meters as part of a research mission. The OceanGate vessel was bound for the Titanic, which sits at 4,000 meters underwater.

Karyn Rogers is an Associate Professor in Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Director of the Rensselaer Astrobiology Research and Education Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She researches the potential for life to start and survive in extreme environments.

Rogers has traveled down in a research vessel called Alvin. It’s owned and operated by the U.S. Navy. Alvin is subject to a high level of regulation, security and testing, which sets it apart from OceanGate’s tourist vessel. She traveled with one other scientist and a pilot in the six-foot-wide spherical vehicle.

Rogers also studies life below the surface using remote vessels that bring back video and samples without risking human life.

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“A lot of the work I’ve done in the past and even now, focuses on trying to understand the microbes that live at the bottom of the ocean in these deep-sea hydrothermal systems. So I’ve been able to study them in human-occupied vehicles and also remote-occupied vehicles,” she explained.

Rogers said she was aware of the risks associated with going far below the surface. She described the deep sea as a cold place.

“I think the most fascinating part is as you go through the water column, it gets progressively darker until it’s sort of pitch black, where the sunlight no longer penetrates. So the bottom of the ocean is a really dark place. It’s also a really cold place,” Rogers said.