Oceans of Opportunity

a new perspective on ‘our’ undersea world for 2012

'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael LombardiWith the turn of this new year, this is an opportune time to reflect on this year’s past and more importantly – start focusing energies for what lies ahead.

The last two years have marked a timely and ambitious push to take my deep exploration work to new depths, and shed light on a new public appeal for a human presence in the ocean. Those involved in expeditions of any type know just how much of a commitment it takes to make these things happen – from planning to logistics, to fundraising, to more planning, to nurturing collaborations, to overcoming failures and shortfalls, to more planning, to actually getting the job done. Then of course, like any good evolutionary body of work, we learn from it and devise a course of action to continue the pursuit.

In 2010 and 2011, my small team took some big steps in conducting ‘working’ scientific dives in excess of 400 feet of depth – using totally autonomous diving techniques and with a small, cost-effective footprint. The outcome?…staring at the edge of yet another new frontier right in the face – the lower limits of mesophotic coral ecosystems – and the start of considerations for what practical limits are for human intervention of the oceans. Each dive we made revealed discoveries that are changing science, and the technology we’re using to get there is going through an innovative evolution all its own…

CGI concept sketch of habitat. Courtesy Anthony Appleyard.

A recent collaboration with Subsalve Inc., has resulted in the design and fabrication of a portable decompression habitat which we will incorporate into our explorations in 2012. This does add a degree of complexity with dive planning, however it will also permit a more functional range extension, as the lengthy and uncomfortable decompression phase of the dive can be conducted in a more controlled environment. The project will demonstrate several key points. First is use of a totally autonomous habitat, free of surface support or connectivity – a step towards living underwater with absolutely no direct surface support. Second is establishing the use of ‘base camp’ analogs during exploration caliber dives in openwater. Lastly of course, is that our team, ‘people’, will be taking an incremental step towards frontier settlement in ‘our’ undersea world…as we’ve discussed previously here on ‘a new life’, this ocean frontier is there for the taking, and it is our fateful destiny to evolve to maximize its intervention, lending a critical component to our species’ sustainability. That time is now.

Thanks to a second award from the National Geographic Society’s Waitt Grants Program, and contributions from numerous corporate and individual sponsors, 2012 will mark a pivotal moment in human exploration of this Blue Planet. Stay tuned as we take you there…

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