Aquarius Reef Base

The Aquarius Reef Base is an underwater habitat located 5.4 miles (9 kilometers) off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It is deployed on the ocean floor 62 feet (19 meters) below the surface and next to a deep coral reef named Conch Reef.

Aquarius is one of three undersea laboratories in the world dedicated to science and education. Two additional undersea facilities, also located in Key Largo, FL are owned and operated by Marine Resources Development Foundation. Aquarius was owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and operated by the University of North Carolina–Wilmington[1] until 2013 when Florida International University assumed operational control.[2]

Florida International University (FIU) took ownership of Aquarius in October 2014. As part of the FIU Marine Education and Research Initiative, the Medina Aquarius Program is dedicated to the study and preservation of marine ecosystems worldwide and is enhancing the scope and impact of FIU on research, educational outreach, technology development, and professional training. At the heart of the program is the Aquarius Reef Base.[3]

Florida International University Aquarius Reef Base
Aquarius Reef Base Seal
Aquarius exterior (whole)
Aquarius on Conch Reef, off the Florida Keys
Established1986
Research typeUnderwater research and ocean exploration
LocationFlorida Keys, Florida
Operating agency
Florida International University
WebsiteAquarius Reef Base

Purpose

Aquarius, designed by Perry Submarine Builders of Florida and constructed by Victoria Machine Works, was built in Victoria, Texas, in 1986.[4] Its original name was "the George F. Bond", after the United States Navy physician who was the father of Sealab in particular and saturation diving in general.[5] Underwater operations were first planned for Catalina Island, California, but were moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Aquarius was taken to Wilmington, NC for repairs and refurbishment and was redeployed in the Florida Keys in 1993. Aquarius is located under 20 m (66 ft) of water at the base of a coral reef within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, an ideal site for studying the health of sensitive coral reefs.

The laboratory is most often used by marine biologists for whom Aquarius acts as home base as they study the coral reef, the fish and aquatic plants that live nearby and the composition of the surrounding seawater. Aquarius houses sophisticated lab equipment and computers, enabling scientists to perform research and process samples without leaving their underwater facilities.

The habitat accommodates four scientists and two technicians for missions averaging ten days. Scientists on the Aquarius are often called "Aquanauts" (as they live underwater at depth pressure for a period equal to or greater than 24 continuous hours without returning to the surface). A technique known as saturation diving allows the aquanauts to live and work underwater for days or weeks at a time. After twenty four hours underwater at any depth, the human body becomes saturated with dissolved gas. With saturation diving, divers can accurately predict exactly how much time they need to decompress before returning to the surface. This information limits the risk of decompression sickness. By living in the Aquarius habitat and working at the same depth on the ocean floor, Aquarius aquanauts are able to remain underwater for the duration of their mission. In addition, because Aquarius allows saturation diving, dives from the habitat can last for up to nine hours at a time; by comparison, surface dives usually last between one and two hours. These long dive times allow for observation that would not otherwise be possible. Way stations on the reef outside Aquarius allow aquanauts to refill their scuba tanks during dives.[6][7]

Habitat structure

Aquarius consists of three compartments. Access to the water is made via the 'wet porch', a chamber equipped with a moon pool, which keeps the air pressure inside the wet porch the same as the water pressure at that depth ('ambient pressure'), about 2.6 atmospheres, through hydrostatic equilibrium. The main compartment is strong enough, like a submarine, to maintain normal atmospheric pressure; it can also be pressurized to ambient pressure, and is usually held at a pressure in between. The smallest compartment, the Entry Lock, is between the other two and functions as an airlock in which personnel wait while pressure is adjusted to match either the wet porch or the main compartment.

Aquarius floorplan
Floorplan of Aquarius.
Aquarius external
Another view of the habitat

This design enables personnel to return to the surface without the need for a decompression chamber when they get there. Personnel stay inside the main compartment for 17 hours before ascending as the pressure is slowly reduced, so that they do not suffer decompression sickness after the ascent.[8]

Underwater missions and research

Several missions on the Aquarius have been canceled due to hurricane activity. During Hurricane Gordon in 1994, a crew of scientists and divers had to evacuate Aquarius and climb up a rescue line to the surface in 15-foot seas after one of the habitat's generators caught fire.[9][10] In 1998, Hurricane Georges nearly destroyed Aquarius, breaking a joint in one of its legs and moving two 8000-pound weights on the wet porch nearly off the structure. Both Hurricane Georges and Hurricane Mitch, later in 1998, also destroyed way stations outside Aquarius used to refill aquanauts' scuba tanks.[9] In 2005, Hurricane Rita broke two of the habitat's seabed anchors and moved one end of Aquarius by twelve feet.[9][11] In 2017 Hurricane Irma ripped the habitat's 94,000 pound life support buoy from its moorings and blew it 14 miles away to the Lignum Vitae Channel, as well as damaging the underwater living quarters and 'wet porch' area.[12] As of 2008, no scientists or staff members had been injured at Aquarius due to storms.[9]

Since 2001, NASA has used Aquarius for its NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) analog missions, sending groups of astronauts to simulate human spaceflight space exploration missions. Much like space, the undersea world is a hostile, alien place for humans to live. NEEMO crew members experience some of the same challenges there that they would on a distant asteroid, planet or moon. During NEEMO missions in Aquarius, the aquanauts are able to simulate living on a spacecraft and test spacewalk techniques for future space missions. The underwater condition has the additional benefit of allowing NASA to "weight" the aquanauts to simulate different gravity environments.[13]

A diver named Dewey Smith died during a dive from Aquarius in May 2009.[7][14] A subsequent investigation determined that Smith's death was caused by a combination of factors, including the failure of the electronic functions of his Inspiration closed circuit rebreather due to hydrodynamic forces from a hydraulic impact hammer being used nearby.[15]

Due to budget cuts, NOAA ceased funding Aquarius after September 2012, with no further missions scheduled after a July 2012 mission that included pioneering female diver Sylvia Earle in its aquanaut crew. The University of North Carolina Wilmington was also unable to provide funding to continue operations. The Aquarius Foundation was set up in an attempt to keep Aquarius functioning.[16][17] In a two-week series the daily cartoon strip Sherman's Lagoon featured the potential closing of the Aquarius facility in the week starting September 10, 2012, and continued with a cameo appearance of Sylvia Earle in the week starting September 17, 2012, to discuss the importance of Aquarius.[18] In January 2013, a proposal to keep Aquarius running under Florida International University administration was accepted.[2]

From June 1 to July 2, 2014, Fabien Cousteau and his crew spent 31 days living and working in Aquarius in tribute to Jacques Cousteau's 30-day underwater expedition in 1963. Cousteau estimated the team collected the equivalent of two years' worth of surface diving data during the mission, enough for ten scientific papers.[19][20]

References

  1. ^ Shepard, Andrew N.; Dinsmore, David A.; Miller, Steven L.; Cooper, Craig B.; Wicklund, Robert I. (1996). "Aquarius undersea laboratory: The next generation". In: MA Lang, CC Baldwin (Eds.) the Diving for Science…1996, "Methods and Techniques of Underwater Research". Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (Sixteenth annual Scientific Diving Symposium). Retrieved February 26, 2012.
  2. ^ a b Ho, Leonard (15 January 2013). "It's Official: Aquarius Reef Base still in business". Advanced Aquarist. Pomacanthus Publications. Retrieved 17 January 2013.
  3. ^ http://aquarius.fiu.edu/about/
  4. ^ Kesling, D; Berey, R (1989). "Training, equipment, and operational procedures for conducting scientific saturation diving activities". In: Lang, MA; Jaap, WC (ed). Diving for Science…1989. Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences annual scientific diving symposium 28 September - 1 October 1989 Wood Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA. Retrieved 2013-04-16.
  5. ^ Hellwarth, Ben (2012). Sealab: America's Forgotten Quest to Live and Work on the Ocean Floor. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 259. ISBN 978-0-7432-4745-0. LCCN 2011015725.
  6. ^ Prager, Ellen J. (2008). Chasing Science at Sea: Racing Hurricanes, Stalking Sharks, & Living Undersea With Ocean Experts. Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-226-67870-2.
  7. ^ a b Hellwarth, pp. 260-261.
  8. ^ Stone, Gregory (September 2003). "Deep Science @ National Geographic Magazine - National Geographic Online Extra". National Geographic Society. Archived from the original on 2007-10-17. Retrieved February 29, 2012.
  9. ^ a b c d Prager, pp. 118-120.
  10. ^ Helvarg, David (March 20, 2011). "Health Library Articles". HealthDay. Retrieved February 25, 2012.
  11. ^ Public Affairs, UCT2 (January 2006). "Seabee Divers Help NOAA Restore Aquarius Undersea Lab" (PDF). Faceplate. 9 (1): 10, 20. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 17, 2013. Retrieved February 28, 2012.
  12. ^ Staletovich, Jenny (September 27, 2017). "Irma battered, but didn't beat, this beloved underwater lab". Miami Herald. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  13. ^ http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/NEEMO/about_neemo.html
  14. ^ Silk, Robert (May 9, 2009). "Aquarius diver's death remains a question". Key West Citizen. Cooke Communications. Archived from the original on March 26, 2010. Retrieved January 25, 2012.
  15. ^ "External Review Board Report of Findings and Recommendations" (PDF). American Academy of Underwater Sciences. August 27, 2009. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
  16. ^ Lam, Brian (July 13, 2012). "Searching for the Ocean's Secrets From the Last Undersea Base". Gawker Media. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  17. ^ Hellwarth, Ben (August 3, 2012). "How Humans Learned To Live Under Water". Gawker Media. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  18. ^ Support (September 17, 2012). "This Week in Comics: What To Read - DailyINK Blog". King Features Syndicate. Archived from the original on September 19, 2012. Retrieved September 18, 2012.
  19. ^ Alyssa Newcomb (July 2, 2014). "Fabien Cousteau Calls the Ocean 'Second Home' After 31-Day Undersea Mission". Good Morning America. ABC News. Retrieved July 2, 2014.
  20. ^ "5 Things to Know About Cousteau's Undersea Mission". ABC News. AP. July 2, 2014. Retrieved July 2, 2014.

General references

External links

Coordinates: 24°57′00″N 80°27′14″W / 24.950°N 80.454°W

Akihiko Hoshide

Akihiko Hoshide (星出 彰彦, Hoshide Akihiko, born December 28, 1968) is a Japanese engineer and JAXA astronaut. On August 30, 2012, Hoshide became the third Japanese astronaut to walk in space.

Bill Todd

William Laurence "Bill" Todd is a Project Manager for Exploration Analogs at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas. He has also served as a NASA Undersea Research Team Project Lead and Spaceflight Training Simulation Supervisor at NASA JSC. Todd is a veteran Aquanaut of 5 missions. In 2001, he commanded the first NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) mission, a joint NASA-NOAA program to study human survival in the Aquarius underwater laboratory in preparation for future space exploration.Todd has also spent many years helping to develop the futuristic undersea exploration vessel SeaOrbiter, which was inspired by French architect Jacques Rougerie.

Dewey Smith

Dewey Dewayne Smith (July 24, 1972 – May 5, 2009) was an underwater diver, former United States Navy medic and professional aquanaut. He died during a dive from the Aquarius underwater habitat off Key Largo in May 2009. A subsequent investigation determined that multiple factors combined to cause the accident.

Diving support equipment

Diving support equipment is the equipment used to facilitate a diving operation. It is either not taken into the water during the dive, such as the gas panel and compressor, or is not integral to the actual diving, being there to make the dive easier or safer, such as a surface decompression chamber. Some equipment, like a diving stage, is not easily categorised as diving or support equipment, and may be considered as either.

Dominic Landucci

Dominic Landucci is an American professional aquanaut with the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). He served as the Network Analyst at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Aquarius Reef Base, the world's only undersea research laboratory.

Index of underwater divers

See the Glossary of underwater diving terminology for definitions of technical terms, jargon, diver slang and acronyms used in underwater diving

See the Outline of underwater diving for a hierararchical listing of underwater diving related articles

See the Outline of underwater divers for a hierararchical listing of biographical articles on underwater divers

See the Index of underwater diving for an alphabetical listing of underwater diving related articles

See the Index of recreational dive sites for an alphabetical listing of underwater dive site related articlesThe following index is provided as an overview of and topical guide to underwater divers:

Underwater divers are people who take part in underwater diving activities – Underwater diving is practiced as part of an occupation, or for recreation, where the practitioner submerges below the surface of the water or other liquid for a period which may range between seconds to order of a day at a time, either exposed to the ambient pressure or isolated by a pressure resistant suit, to interact with the underwater environment for pleasure, competitive sport, or as a means to reach a work site for profit or in the pursuit of knowledge, and may use no equipment at all, or a wide range of equipment which may include breathing apparatus, environmental protective clothing, aids to vision, communication, propulsion, maneuverability, buoyancy and safety equipment, and tools for the task at hand.

James Talacek

James Raymond Talacek is an American professional aquanaut with the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). He serves as Oceanographic Field Operations Manager at Aquarius Reef Base, the world's only undersea research laboratory.

Jonathan Bird's Blue World

Jonathan Bird's Blue World is a family-friendly underwater science/adventure television program. The program is hosted by underwater cinematographer Jonathan Bird. This series airs on public television stations in the US. The program is designed for family viewing, and each segment finds Bird trying to unravel a mystery, witness an animal behavior or explore an underwater environment. The first season consisted of 5 half-hour programs filmed in standard definition, and the subsequent seasons were all shot in high-definition. The second and third seasons each won four New England Emmy Awards. The fourth season was nominated for a 2013 National Daytime Emmy Award. The pilot episode from season 1 won a CINE Golden Eagle Award. The program is magazine format with each television episode consisting of 2-3 segments. These segments appear individually on YouTube and the Blue World website as webisodes. There are currently 6 seasons.

Justin Brown (aquanaut)

Justin Brown is an American professional aquanaut with the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). He serves as a habitat technician at Aquarius Reef Base, the world's only undersea research laboratory.

Mark Hulsbeck

Mark Whitney Hulsbeck (born February 20, 1956) is an American professional aquanaut. He serves as an Oceanographic Operations Field Manager and research diver for the Aquarius Reef Base, the world's only undersea research laboratory, operated by Florida International University. Hulsbeck is nicknamed "Otter".

Mission 31

Mission 31 was an undersea expedition organized by Fabien Cousteau. It was originally scheduled for November 2013, but was delayed to June 2014. On June 1, Cousteau and six crew members descended to the undersea laboratory Aquarius in the Florida Keys. Halfway through the expedition, three of crew were replaced, as had been planned. After 31 days, Cousteau and the crew ascended on July 2.

Throughout Mission 31, Cousteau's team conducted extended scuba diving expeditions to collect scientific data and IMAX footage. They hosted various one-day guests, conversed live with classrooms, and kept in touch with the outside world via social media. Cousteau estimated that his team collected the equivalent of two years' worth of surface dive data, enough for 10 scientific papers. Mission 31 was envisioned as a tribute to Cousteau's grandfather, Jacques Cousteau, who spent 30 days living underwater in 1963. Fabien Cousteau thus beat his grandfather's record for time spent underwater by a film crew by one day.

NEEMO

NEEMO, an acronym for NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations, is a NASA analog mission that sends groups of astronauts, engineers and scientists to live in Aquarius underwater laboratory, the world's only undersea research station, for up to three weeks at a time in preparation for future space exploration.Aquarius is an underwater habitat located 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) off Key Largo, Florida, in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It is deployed on the ocean floor next to deep coral reefs 62 feet (19 metres) below the surface.

NASA has used it since 2001 for a series of space exploration simulation missions, usually lasting 7 to 14 days, with space research mainly conducted by international astronauts. The mission had cost about 500 million U.S. dollars.

The crew members are called aquanauts (as they live underwater at depth pressure for a period equal to or greater than 24 continuous hours without returning to the surface), and they perform EVAs in the underwater environment. A technique known as saturation diving allows the aquanauts to live and work underwater for days or weeks at a time. After twenty four hours underwater at any depth, the human body becomes saturated with dissolved gas. With saturation diving, divers can accurately predict exactly how much time they need to decompress before returning to the surface. This information limits the risk of decompression sickness. By living in the Aquarius habitat and working at the same depth on the ocean floor, NEEMO crews are able to remain underwater for the duration of their mission.

For NASA, the Aquarius habitat and its surroundings provide a convincing analog for space exploration.

Much like space, the undersea world is a hostile, alien place for humans to live. NEEMO crew members experience some of the same challenges there that they would on a distant asteroid, planet (i.e. Mars) or Moon. During NEEMO missions, the aquanauts are able to simulate living on a spacecraft and test spacewalk techniques for future space missions. Working in space and underwater environments requires extensive planning and sophisticated equipment. The underwater condition has the additional benefit of allowing NASA to "weight" the aquanauts to simulate different gravity environments.Until 2012, Aquarius was owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and operated by the National Undersea Research Center (NURC) at the University of North Carolina–Wilmington as a marine biology study base.

Since 2013, Aquarius is owned by Florida International University (FIU). As part of the FIU Marine Education and Research Initiative, the Medina Aquarius Program is dedicated to the study and preservation of marine ecosystems worldwide and is enhancing the scope and impact of FIU on research, educational outreach, technology development, and professional training. At the heart of the program is the Aquarius Reef Base.

OpenROV

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Outline of oceanography

The following outline is provided as an overview of and introduction to Oceanography.

Outline of underwater divers

Underwater divers are people who take part in underwater diving activities – Underwater diving is practiced as part of an occupation, or for recreation, where the practitioner submerges below the surface of the water or other liquid for a period which may range between seconds to order of a day at a time, either exposed to the ambient pressure or isolated by a pressure resistant suit, to interact with the underwater environment for pleasure, competitive sport, or as a means to reach a work site for profit or in the pursuit of knowledge, and may use no equipment at all, or a wide range of equipment which may include breathing apparatus, environmental protective clothing, aids to vision, communication, propulsion, maneuverability, buoyancy and safety equipment, and tools for the task at hand.

Ray O. Johnson

Ray O. Johnson, an American executive focused on business, innovation, and diversity, is the former Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of the Lockheed Martin Corporation. Johnson guided the Corporation’s technology vision and provided corporate leadership in the strategic areas of technology, engineering, production operations, supply chain, program management, and sustainment, which included more than 72,000 people working on more than 4,000 programs that provided some of the nation’s most vital security systems. Johnson has a proven track record in managing large P&L organizations, developing and executing growth and technology strategies, and achieving operational excellence in diverse business environments.

Underwater habitat

Underwater habitats are underwater structures in which people can live for extended periods and carry out most of the basic human functions of a 24-hour day, such as working, resting, eating, attending to personal hygiene, and sleeping. In this context 'habitat' is generally used in a narrow sense to mean the interior and immediate exterior of the structure and its fixtures, but not its surrounding marine environment. Most early underwater habitats lacked regenerative systems for air, water, food, electricity, and other resources. However, recently some new underwater habitats allow for these resources to be delivered using pipes, or generated within the habitat, rather than manually delivered.An underwater habitat has to meet the needs of human physiology and provide suitable environmental conditions, and the one which is most critical is breathing air of suitable quality. Others concern the physical environment (pressure, temperature, light, humidity), the chemical environment (drinking water, food, waste products, toxins) and the biological environment (hazardous sea creatures, microorganisms, marine fungi). Much of the science covering underwater habitats and their technology designed to meet human requirements is shared with diving, diving bells, submersible vehicles and submarines, and spacecraft.

Numerous underwater habitats have been designed, built and used around the world since the early 1960s, either by private individuals or by government agencies. They have been used almost exclusively for research and exploration, but in recent years at least one underwater habitat has been provided for recreation and tourism. Research has been devoted particularly to the physiological processes and limits of breathing gases under pressure, for aquanaut and astronaut training, as well as for research on marine ecosystems.

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