Between 1973 and 1986, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) operated the manned submersible Pisces IV primarily to provide support to Canadian scientists. Based at the Institute of Ocean Sciences (IOS), this national facility operated in the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans, completing more than 1886 dives. Budget cuts forced the cancellation of the charter for the support vessel, Pandora II in 1986, the ending to operation of Pisces IV. A HYSUB 5000 remotely operated vehicle (ROV) from International Submarine Engineering (ISE) was ordered as a replacement, with the dual objectives of maintaining submersible support for the Canadian scientific community and promoting the national ocean technology industry.
The ROV (affectionately dubbed 'ROPOS', Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Sciences) had some advantages over the manned submersible: it could easily operate from a variety of ships and had a greater depth capability. Between its delivery and the end of 1995 it made a total of 377 dives. Starting in 1992, part of the cost of operations was paid by the Canadian university users, with support from NSERC. Further support came from collaborations with US scientists. Ongoing DFO budget reductions combined with administrative obstacles to cost-recovery from the users, who were mainly outside DFO, led to the decision to try operating the system on a full user-pay basis in partnership with a private not-for-profit organization. The Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility (CSSF) was thus established in late 1995 by a group of Canadian university scientists, specifically for the purpose of operating ROPOS on a user-pay basis in partnership with DFO.
- 1986: Original HYSUB 5000, ROPOS, ordered from ISE.
- 1995: CSSF is established as a federally registered, not-for-profit corporation.
- 1996: CSSF starts operating the ROPOS system.
- 1997: New ROPOS vehicle purchased from ISE with many improvements to all systems.
- 2004: CSSF now owns the ROPOS submersibles and accessory equipment.
- 2005: Start of a three-year, $2.33 million, upgrade to all ROPOS systems. Funded by CFI, the British Columbia Knowledge and Development Fund, and CSSF.
- 2007: Upgrade is completed making ROPOS a state-of-the-art ROV system.
Operational History (1996-2006)
Pioneering deep-sea research for which ROPOS is essential falls into 4 major themes: Mid-Ocean Ridges and Volcanoes; Habitat Surveys; Gas Hydrates; and Cabled Seafloor Observatories.
- Mid-Ocean Ridges: 21 major cruises to mid-ocean and black-arc ridges, completing 269 dives and providing 6178 scientist-dives.
- Habitat Surveys: 31 major survey cruises for ecological and biological purposes, completing 250 dives and providing 3207 scientist-dives; 52% of these in 2004-2006.
- Gas Hydrate: 95 subduction zone dives on 13 cruises, resulting in 1441 scientist-dives.
- Cabled Seafloor Observatories: 83 cabled observatory dives on 9 cruises, resulting in 1608 scientist-dives. All of these dives have been conducted since 2004.
ROPOS also performs search and recovery, and engineering dives. In total, ROPOS has carried out 44 marine engineering and recovery dives on 11 cruises, resulting in 167 scientist-dives. A notable example is ROPOS' assistance to the federal Transportation safety board investigation of the sinking of the BC Ferry, Queen of the North, in June 2006.