I have lived underwater
2014 04 14

By Rose Eveleth | BBC



Living underwater is seen by some as a futuristic utopia, but what’s it actually like? Rose Eveleth asks a man who eats, works and sleeps on the sea floor – the latest in her new series about the people who have already experienced the future.

The first night Deron Burkepile spent underwater was over 10 years ago, but the memory is still fresh in his mind. He remembers getting suited up — a couple of scuba tanks on his back, extra safety gear hanging from his rig—and stepping to the back of the boat. “You’re used to getting off the boat and coming back in an hour, maybe two at most,” he says. “So you’re thinking, wow, I’m not going to see the sun again for almost two weeks.”

After their dive, rather than going back to the boat, Burkepile and three fellow marine biologists swam on to the Aquarius underwater lab, 63ft below sea level in the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary. “It’s getting kind of dark,” he remembers, “and the sun is going down, and you’re swimming up to Aquarius which has lights all over the outside. Essentially it’s just silhouetted by these big spotlights. It’s just one of the coolest experiences underwater that I’ve ever had.”

The idea of living underwater is often brought up as a possible future for humanity. Some have proposed submerged settlements as a way to preserve civilisation in the event of a global catastrophe, or to avoid overpopulation. Meanwhile, developers are already planning submerged hotels in locations including the Maldives, Dubai, Singapore and Norway. These developments may one day live up to the romantic notions many have of life beneath the waves, but what’s it like to live underwater today?

More people have been in space than have lived underwater to do science. In the 1960s Jacques Cousteau’s team built the first underwater habitat called Conshelf I, and two men spent a week inside the drum-shaped enclosure 37ft (11m) below the surface. Their next iteration was Conshelf II, which, in 1963, was installed off the coast of Sudan (see video, below). This time, scientists spent 30 days in the star-fish shaped structure.

UK scientists have challenged the idea that the Titanic was unlucky for sailing in a year when there were an exceptional number of icebergs in the North Atlantic

The first night Deron Burkepile spent underwater was over 10 years ago, but the memory is still fresh in his mind. He remembers getting suited up — a couple of scuba tanks on his back, extra safety gear hanging from his rig—and stepping to the back of the boat. “You’re used to getting off the boat and coming back in an hour, maybe two at most,” he says. “So you’re thinking, wow, I’m not going to see the sun again for almost two weeks.”

After their dive, rather than going back to the boat, Burkepile and three fellow marine biologists swam on to the Aquarius underwater lab, 63ft below sea level in the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary. “It’s getting kind of dark,” he remembers, “and the sun is going down, and you’re swimming up to Aquarius which has lights all over the outside. Essentially it’s just silhouetted by these big spotlights. It’s just one of the coolest experiences underwater that I’ve ever had.”

The idea of living underwater is often brought up as a possible future for humanity. Some have proposed submerged settlements as a way to preserve civilisation in the event of a global catastrophe, or to avoid overpopulation. Meanwhile, developers are already planning submerged hotels in locations including the Maldives, Dubai, Singapore and Norway. These developments may one day live up to the romantic notions many have of life beneath the waves, but what’s it like to live underwater today?

More people have been in space than have lived underwater to do science. In the 1960s Jacques Cousteau’s team built the first underwater habitat called Conshelf I, and two men spent a week inside the drum-shaped enclosure 37ft (11m) below the surface. Their next iteration was Conshelf II, which, in 1963, was installed off the coast of Sudan (see video, below). This time, scientists spent 30 days in the star-fish shaped structure.

The biggest challenge early divers and engineers faced in building and living inside these structures was understanding the effect of breathing pressurised gas for long periods of time. Experiments designed to work out the effects of living in hyperbaric chambers, in which the air can be compressed to mimic conditions at depth, began in the 1930s.

A few years after Cousteau proved that people could live underwater inside a chamber for a month at a time, the US Navy built its experimental habitat Sealab I off the coast of Bermuda, 192ft (56m) underwater. Since then, there have been a handful of other underwater labs including the Tektite habitat and Hydrolab, but Aquarius is the only one still running for scientific researchers. Burkepile is one of the few who have worked there.

While the science and technology has certainly improved, there are a lot of things that haven’t changed much since the days of Cousteau’s Conshelf program. Underwater habitats are still very cramped, and the environment is harsh.

[...]

Read the full article at: bbc.com



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