Friday, February 7, 2014

Dangers of the Deep

Today on Far Future Horizons we present another fascinating episode from the National Geographic Channel’s documentary series “Naked Science – Dangers of the Deep”. In this instalment of “Naked Science” we will take a spectacular foray deep into the last great frontier of our planet – the seas and oceans.

Humans have explored much of the solar system, carried out studies to assess the possibility for life on Mars yet little is known about our own oceans that cover over 70% of our planet's surface. If we were to drain the seas what would we find, and what would it take to explore the abyss, a place with no light, temperatures at near zero and pressure a thousand times greater than the surface. Only two people have ever visited the bottom of the oceans less than have walked on the moon. We are on a journey to the bottom of some of the deepest oceans. Investigating the technologies and vistas that could, one day, open-up an entirely new world.

Robert Ballard

What are the challenges that face us in a quest to explore the ocean floor? Even at depths as shallow as 60 feet scientific study is limited by the effects of pressure on the human body. This is where Aquarius underwater laboratory come in. It lies 60 feet beneath the waves and provides a home for up to 6 scientists at a time. It is pressurized to ambient pressure meaning the divers can go in and out as they choose and dive for up to eight hours a day with out the need for decompression. The pressurized living space also means they can you use a moon pool as entry and exit “ an open hole in the floor of the habitat, the water held out by the pressure of air in Aquarius.

Unfortunately it takes 17 hours to decompress after the two week stay. NASA use the base as a training place for space. The confined space and hazardous environment prove a perfect testing ground for its intrepid explores.

Phil Nuytten developed the Newt Suit

But what if we need to go deeper to discover some of science's unanswered questions? If humans cannot go to great depths unprotected how then do we go there? The answer is cutting edge technology. Phil Nuytten developed the Newt Suit: a one man, one atmosphere submersibles that allow engineers to work thousands of feet underwater. But deeper still takes more protection. Bob Ballard used Alvin, a two man sub, when he discovered the hydrothermal vents that reshaped our ideas about the basis of life on earth and its very creation. Spouting super heated water these vents, 7,000 feet down amazingly form the initial input of energy that supports and intricate ecosystem the only ones that live away from he sun's influence, including giant clams and eight feet worms. These Vents could provide more than just energy for basic life; it could be gold mine, literally. These vents produce high grade metals including gold and copper. Phil Nuytten has plans to build “Vent Base Alpha” a one atmosphere base that allows humans to live, work and mine around the vents and the first truly permanent underwater base.

Phil Nuytten's Vent Base Alpha

How deep can we go? Don Walsh took the Trieste as low as we can go at the Marina Trench.

Over seven miles down, it is cold, dark and dangerous. Pressure levels over 1000 times that of the surface results in 200,000 tons of pressure on the sphere. Only two people have ever been and no vehicle has been as deep since.

To purchase this and other National Geographic Documentaries visit National Geographic’s Online Store.

After watching today’s video we would like to invite you to learn something about an undersea endeavour initiated by our dear friend and co blogger Dennis Chamberland: The Atlantica Expeditions, First Undersea Colony Project.

Naked Science - Dangers of the Deep

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