Underwater Observatories for Ocean Science

Studying the ocean is expensive business.  For a start, a huge proportion of the ocean is difficult for us to reach.  Even if you just want to head out away from the coast and take some samples from the surface waters, you need a boat, sampling and measuring devices, people who can operate the boat, people who can operate the devices, provisions…. You get the picture.  Then you need to take repeat measurements - which mean repeat trips.  Sampling from on or near seafloor – especially in deep water – can be even more costly.  But what if you didn’t have to keep going back and forth?  What if you could have all you need in situ, on the ocean floor?

The concept of the undersea observatory is not new.  Back in 1962, underwater researcher, filmmaker, and co-developer of the Aqua-lung Jacques-Yves Cousteau along with US naval doctor George Bond launched the first of three Continental Shelf Stations, Conshelf I off the coast of Marseilles.  Submerged in 10 meters of water, two aquanauts (Claude Wesly and Albert Falco) were able to spend up to 5 hours per day living and working under the ocean.  A year later and Conshelf II was launched, this time submerged in 10 meters of water in the Red Sea off the Sudanese coast.  Unlike Conshelf I, Conshelf II allowed 5 aquanauts to live and work underwater continually for 30 days, but was reliant on surface support.  A second unit lying much deeper at 27 meters was added to Conshelf II shortly after.  In 1965 Conshelf III saw 6 divers living much more self-sufficiently some 102 meters below the Mediterranean Sea for 21 days...

The full article was published and can be read in The Marine Professional – a publication of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST)

Image: NEEMO 12 crewmembers survey the exterior before entering their undersea habitat as they begin the 12th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) mission. Credit NASA Johnson/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)