A Spacesuit for the Deep Ocean
Kyle Maxey posted on March 04, 2014 |
exosuit, dive, science, biology, ocean, exploration, discoveryAn advanced diving suit could free deep-sea exploration from the confines of a submarine, making biological discovery and deep-sea construction easier than ever before.

The Vancouver-developed atmospheric diving system, or ExoSuit, is essentially a 530lb metal space suit re-designed for use underwater. Complete with 18 red rotary joints the Exosuit is a flexible, pressurized environment that simulates the atmospheric conditions found at sea level. Featuring a 1.6 horsepower engine, any user has the ability to “swim” while wearing the suit and can control their motion via thrusters that can propel them in any direction.

First used in 2012 by contractors J.F White, the $600,000 ExoSuit was originally put to work in the still ongoing construction of New York City’s 10.5 mile long Water Tunnel 3. While the ExoSuit has since been employed in the commercial world this summer it will join the Blue Water Expedition, an academic venture studying the bioluminescent fish off the coast of New England.

Lead by a consortium of Universities, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and the J.F. White Company, the Blue Water Expedition will allow biologists to investigate many species without removing them from their native environment. This unprecedented feat – coupled with the ability to interact with and probe the alien environment of the deep ocean – could lead to a greater understanding of bioluminescence as a whole. Armed with a fiber optic cable tethered to a nearby vessel, a researcher within the suit will be able to communicate with colleagues immediately through the use of both cameras and microphones embedded within the suit.

 In a recent statement John Sparks, curator of the AMNH’s Department of Ichthyology said, "Our access to these deeper open-water and reef habitats has been limited, which has restricted our ability to investigate the behavior and flashing patterns of bioluminescent organisms, or to effectively collect fishes and invertebrates from deep reefs … The Exosuit could get us one step closer to achieving these goals."

In the end, the ExoSuit may prove to be a game changer for the biologists involved. With scientists speculating that only one third of oceanic species have been discovered the ExoSuit might be exactly what scientists require to spur on future discovery.  Given the extreme conditions that exist within the deep ocean researchers might stumble upon morphologies that advance our understanding of design and engineering, along with a better understanding of bioluminescence. 

Image Courtesy of Nuytco Research

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