Bermuda Lab Inspires Underwater Colony

January 20, 2011

Sealab_1wikiA Florida scientist has updated a US Navy experiment first conducted off Bermuda in 1964 and is planning to establish the first permanent undersea colony.

National Aeronautics & Space Agency contract manager Dennis Chamberland — who has designed prototypes of advanced life support systems for the moon and Mars — plans to head a group of “aquanauts” who will live in submerged steel modules 200 feet beneath Florida’s waters utilising the Gulf Stream for energy and oxygen.

Mr. Chamberland sees undersea living as a natural evolution for humankind because population growth is placing increased pressure on natural resources and ecosystems.

“Humans just expand, and this is just one of those migrations — of humans into the sea,” said the engineer, who has signed up “Titanic” and “Avatar” director James Cameron to visit during the “Atlantica Expeditions” which are set to begin within the next two years.

Mr. Chamberland has said his earliest inspiration for an underwater habitat was the US Navy’s Sealab programme — inaugurated in Bermuda in 1964 with an experiment off Argus Tower, an off-shore submarine listening and tracking station.

“In 1964 the first Sealab [pictured at top] was established,” the US Navy says in an official history of the programme which lasted until 1969. “A specially designed steel chamber anchored at the bottom of the ocean, Sealab provided a scientific center from which divers, or aquanauts, could work and study the ocean for extended periods of time.

“As part of the US Navy’s Man in the Sea programme, three Sealab experiments were conducted. Sealab I was the first of the Navy’s underwater habitats to be submerged. It was lowered 193 feet into the waters off Bermuda. A huge hose connected the Sealab aquanauts with the world above the water.”

The Sealabs were submerged to great depths beneath the surface of the ocean, where living conditions were different than on land. For instance, normal air could not be inhaled safely. The aquanauts had to breathe a mixture of gases. Helium was the main ingredient of the Sealab atmosphere, and the aquanauts end up sounding like chattering chipmunks during their stay underwater. All three of the Sealabs were equipped with stoves, refrigerators, and sinks.

A large hose brought fresh water, telephone and television connections to the scientists, oceanographers, doctors, engineers, and photographers living in Sealab. Snacks and treats were sent down the hose to the Sealab crews from family members daily to insure that the underwater capsules felt like home.

The aquanauts of Bermuda’s Sealab I fed and photographed fish and placed measuring devices on the ocean floor. They spent six hours a day working on the ocean floor. The aquanauts completed tasks in a week that normally required a year with conventional surface divers.

Sealab 1’s success paved the way for diving at depths of 300, 600 and 1,000 feet below the water and later advancements in both offshore oil drilling and still-classified US Navy submarine-launched espionage missions in the Soviet Union’s waters during the Cold War.

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Category: All, Environment

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  1. Sarah says:

    Sounds fascinating. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.