As amazing as a typical scuba diving adventure might be, there are several limitations that might dampen the experience. Oxygen tanks only last for a certain amount of time, and a person can only scuba dive for up to two hours in one day. There are many dangers in coming up or going down too quickly, as the sudden pressure change can be very harmful. So, how is it that scientists can study marine life and undersea environments over extended periods of time if they can’t even stay underwater for more than two hours? How will we ever get adequate data regarding submarine habitats in the future without it taking painstakingly long?
The answer might lie not in the future, but in the present. Many don’t know it, but the world has housed its only undersea research station at its location off the coast of Florida since 1992, but it was built back in 1986. Aquarius, as it has come to be known, is located 5 miles off shore, and 60 feet under the surface on the ocean floor. Sustained 24/7 by pumps and solar panels, people can stay on Aquarius for days – much longer than the typical 2 hour scuba diving trip.
Scientists studying at Aquarius have to undergo a great deal of training before even being considered to work on the research station. In order to live there safely, you have to go through 24 hours in a compression chamber to adjust to the underwater pressure. Similarly, one has to go through decompression upon leaving. In many ways, Aquarius poses some of the same dangers that regular scuba diving does. However, Aquarius is uniquely innovative in the extensive and in-depth (no pun intended) research they are able to do as a result of the increased submersion time.
Living in Aquarius allows a person to become “part of the coral reef,” in a sense. Research is being conducted on the local marine flora and fauna, like sponges (which work like giant filters) and corals. Scientists even have their own “coral farm” under the sea, where baby corals are being grown. The research all convenes to study the effects of human activity on the ocean and marine life, such as overfishing on coral reefs, increased acidity levels, and pollution. Living on Aquarius is very demanding and requires a great deal of focus and caution – so much so that NASA astronauts in training come here first to be aquanauts!
While Aquarius has been around some time, only a very select few have had the opportunity to visit. The scientists that perform research at the undersea research center go through years and years of intensive training in order to get the opportunity to go down to Aquarius. To give you an idea, there are fewer aquanauts in the world than astronauts that have visited space. Crazy, right? As futuristic and far-out (again, no pun intended) as outer space is, the ocean beneath us is even more undiscovered. So then, if you think about it, Aquarius really is something of the future. Maybe soon, one day, there will be more and more undersea space stations, so that more and more research will be done. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the next Aquarius aquanaut! ≈