Kaki Flynn (left) with DOER Marine owner and ocean explorer Liz Taylor, daughter of Dr. Sylvia Earle.

Women Build Submersibles

Liz Taylor and her husband Ian Griffith run DOER Marine, started by her very famous mom, Sylvia Earle, in 1992. 

Earle, a force in the ocean world, has impacted everything from conservation to the world of submersibles and deep ocean exploration. 

Taylor recently worked on James Cameron's team responsible for the Deepsea Challenger expedition to the Mariana Trench.

"We dealt with safety-related parts of his submersible," said Taylor. "We did the review of the life support, the weight release strategy, and making sure there was some redundancy in those systems, which we had a large body of knowledge to draw from after years of designing subs built to hold from one to ten people."

For Taylor, it was a dream assignment.

"It was an experimental design, and a nice collaboration among many groups," says Taylor, who said a rewarding part of the project was reviewing each others work.

"We have our own machine shop, which also helped,"said Taylor.

One of the interesting challenges was the weight-release strategy. 

Cameron could get himself to the bottom of the Trench; the next big challenge was getting himself back up to the surface.

"There are a number of different ways to make that happen," says Taylor.

One part of that strategy is to drop weights, one is to drop pellets, and another option is to add an electric charge to a bolt, allowing you to shed more weight. 

DOER Submersibles was originally designed to be marine consulting work, but expanded in 1995 to include custom vehicles.

"We primarily build applied science ROVs," says Taylor. "Anywhere from 10 to 67 horsepower, which fills a niche that can't be served by the traditional vehicles and the war-class vehicles are overkill."

DOER investors include Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google and the founder of the Marine Science Technology Foundation.

The goal of the program Schmidt backed includes the build of two submersibles, the testing infrastructure to support them, along with other deep water equipment testing, and a glass research and development program.

In addition to working with moguls such as Cameron and Schmidt, DOER's clients are mostly universities, or people doing critical infrastructure inspections (dams, bridges).

"We can tailor each system to customers using common building blocks that let us customize it," says Taylor. "We have a lot of flexibility to meet size constraints."

One of the most interesting projects for Taylor and her husband has been a Sub Ice Rover that was built for Northern Illinois University to be taken to the polar regions.

"It was a nice collaboration between the National Science Foundation, NOAA, the Moore Foundation and other groups," says Taylor.

This sub needed to be stretched into a long pencil shape so that it could fit down an ice boar hole 22 inches in diameter and 3,300 feet long.

"Once it's under the ice shelf, it unfolds itself like a kid's transformer toy," says Taylor. "This way particle analyzers and all kinds of testing equipment can have access to sea water."

 The Sub Ice Rover can spend up to ten days under the surface, bringing up terra bytes a day of data, as well as samples.

The ROV's DOER builds have also been used to support other projects, such as an ROV that supports the Pisces submersible at the University of Hawaii and the Aloha Station Observatory. 

Rated to 6,000 meters, the ROV was built to handle multiple missions, whether that's normal deep water exploration or sampling tasks.

Taylor's journey, long before building her own ROV's, started as a kid in the Florida ocean and growing up tagging along on her mom's ocean adventures both big and small. 

"We had a pet whelk shell nicknamed Lawrence," says Taylor. 

If you are Sylvia Earle, of course you are going to have the ocean all around you and your daughter, even on dry land.

"We had a salt water aquarium on the counter, and we learned how to properly collect sea life and press seaweed at age two," she adds, details that would come as no surprise to anyone that has met her mom, known in the ocean world as Her Deepness.

Similar to stories told by the Cousteau children, her entire scuba instruction consisted of, "breathe normally." 

Taylor says she was around 8 or 9 years old the day she learned how to scuba dive while on a collecting trip with the Steinhart family in Hawaii, another "ocean famous" clan.

She did eventually get officially certified at the age of 12 through the NAUI while in the Bahamas and working with the HydroLab Mission with her mom.  

"She was living underwater and I was doing surface support," says Taylor.

"After I got my certification at age 12, I had to deliver to the lab a gallon of ice cream and Mount Gay Rum," Taylor jokes.

For all the decades of exploring and now building ROVs she has had the chance to participate in, what does Taylor see looking to the future of all things ocean?

"It's nice to see a little bit more of a move towards collaboration and sharing of data," says Taylor. 

"For so many years we have seen data hoarding."

She has also seen increased pressures on our ocean from things we are taking out of the ocean by mining rare earth metals, as well as a conflict with things we are putting in such as plastics and dispersants. 

"The better information we share, the better chances we have of meaningful, informed decisions being made," says Taylor. "We have a tremendous ways to go."

As far as exploring with or without people, Taylor says that DOER still advocates for the need for people in the sea, and for human-occupied habitats and submersibles.

"We can just replace everything we are doing in the sea with machines," she says, "But it's the full tool box approach that we see."

"We prefer to bring a full toolbox to solving problems and getting work done. There is a need for the glider, a need for the humans, and the AUV's, and the ROV's in the sea. So when we put an expedition together, we try to bring as many tools to the ship as possible."

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