Aquarius Reef Base | JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD


Coming up next on Jonathan Bird’s Blue World, a visit to the world’s only undersea laboratory! Hi, I’m Jonathan Bird and
welcome to my world! ( ♪ music ) When I was a kid, I dreamed
about exploring the ocean from
an undersea lab, far away from the distractions of the world
above. That might seem like a
science fiction fantasy—even less likely in fact than a
space station. As it turns out, a bunch of
scientists and engineers
thought an undersea lab might be a great way to study the ocean,
and life in the ocean. With
funding from the National Oceanic And Atmospheric
Administration, they created
the Aquarius Reef Base near Key
Largo, Florida. My childhood dream has
become a reality. Here, six people can live and
work for weeks at a time
without ever going to the
surface. Sure, it seems really cool, but
to truly understand how this
underwater habitat benefits the
study of the ocean, you need to
understand a little bit about
the physiology of scuba diving. Scuba gear has given humans the
ability to explore the shallow
parts of the ocean. We can hover weightless like fish,
breathing underwater for as
long as our scuba tank
lasts—which is generally about an hour. But even with a limitless scuba
tank, we can’t stay too long
underwater because of a
phenomenon called decompression sickness,
or “the bends.” When I submerge underwater, the
increasing water pressure at
depth pushing in on my lungs won’t allow me to breathe
unless my regulator supplies
air to me at the same pressure
as the water around me. The deeper
I go, the more water pressure
there is, and therefore the air I am breathing is at a
higher pressure too—pushing out
at the same pressure as the water pushing in. Since about 79% of the
atmosphere is composed of
nitrogen, and our bodies can’t
metabolize nitrogen, all this high
pressure nitrogen builds up in
my muscles and other tissues when I dive. If I stay underwater for too
long, too much nitrogen builds
up in my body. When I come back to the lower
ambient pressure at the
surface, it can form bubbles in
my blood, sort of like this.
(shake and open a soda can).
These bubbles get stuck in small arteries and veins, blocking
circulation and causing great
pain. But what if I didn’t have to
come back here to the lower
pressure at the surface after a dive? What if I stayed down
there at a high ambient
pressure by living in an
undersea lab? I could scuba dive all day
long and never get the bends!
That’s the idea behind the Aquarius Reef Base. The blue world team has been
invited to film an Aquarius
mission, so Cameraman Tim and I have come to Key Largo for an
adventure. We load the Aquarius support
boat and join the staff as we
depart from the dock for a 45 minute ride out to the
Aquarius. Once we clear the canal and
reach the ocean, we still have
a few miles to go. The Florida keys have huge areas of shallow
coral reefs before the sea
floor drops off into deeper water. So Aquarius is located a
bit further from shore than you
might expect. Our ride takes us over miles of
beautiful coral reef. I can
hardly contain my excitement to see this astonishing
underwater habitat! At last we reach the Life
Support Buoy. This floating
structure contains generators
and compressors, supplying power
and air to the Aquarius below.
We tie our boat up to the Life Support Buoy. Aquarius is sitting on the sea
floor 60 feet beneath our boat. Tim and I suit up and prepare
to not only see Aquarius up
close, but go inside to meet the team of divers called
Aquanauts with whom we will be
working for the week. Well, I’m all geared up and
ready to go. This is so cool,
you have got to see this! As soon as I hit the water I
can see Aquarius directly
beneath me in the clear water.
It’s almost like a submarine that
doesn’t move. But unlike a submarine, the
pressure inside Aquarius is the
same as the pressure outside. So even though there is an open
hatch at the bottom of the
habitat, water doesn’t go in. This allows people to go in
and out of Aquarius as much as
they like. Which is totally awesome! So this is it! The Aquarius,
amazing! I can come right in
through an open hole in the floor, and yet, the water stays
out, that’s cool. Now, time for
a shower. You have to shower before you go inside the
Aquarius because they don’t
salt water in everything. I
mean, we might be underwater, but
this is civilized. So the Aquarius, you can think
of it like a big school bus
with no seats in it. It’s sort of like a long tube and
everything is spread throughout
that tube. At this end, behind this power
door, is the front porch, and
that’s where I came inside. We like to keep that closed
because it’s quite humid in
there and its air conditioned in here. Now the next feature
you’ll find right inside the
front door here is the bathroom. Here’s your bathroom, you have
got your privacy curtain…it’s
a pretty small bathroom but it gets the job done. And of
course, right across over here,
a sink, and some laboratory equipment, just in case you
need to do some biological
studies. And then we come down a little
further and we have a computer.
Well… you have got to be able to get on the internet
even when you are underwater, I
mean come on! So here in the middle of the
Aquarius we have the kitchen,
or what you would call on a
boat, the galley. So if you come in
here we’re got the sink, and
we’ve got a place to eat, sort of a kitchen table if you will.
And, a picture window! But
unlike your picture window at home, this picture window looks
out on a coral reef with fish
swimming by. Where’s the fish? Come here
fishies! And the last part, down here at
the far end (this would be sort
of like the back of the school bus) you have six bunks
all stacked up together. You
can see there is not a lot of space in here. In fact, if
you’re sleeping, you only have
about a foot and a half from your head to the next bunk up.
It’s pretty tight, but it’s
cozy and its dry. And you can’t beat the view out
the window at the foot of the
bed! So now you might be
wondering…what do you eat
down here? Well, they eat sort
of like astronauts. It’s freeze-dried
foods. If you are a camper you
might have used some of this stuff. You rip the package
open, you put water water in it
and you can eat it right out of the package. They don’t really
have a lot of facilities for
cooking. They have a microwave and they have hot water and
that’s about it. There is no
stove and there’s no oven. Some of the food that gets
brought down in very tight
containers gets compressed with the pressure down here. So this
is something that was fully
inflated at the surface but once it gets brought down here
to 50 feet, the pressure in
here squishes it down, and that’s what it ends up looking
like. You can feel the pressure all
around you even if you don’t
really feel like you are under pressure. The air that we are
breathing is a little bit more
dense because it’s compressed and several things happen. My
voice sounds a little funny to
me, but on top of that… ( jonathan tries to whistle
)…it’s really hard to
whistle! ( bad whistling )
There we go! Even though the scientists are
out scuba diving, there are
always two technicians in
Aquarius maintaining the life support,
fixing little things that
break, monitoring the various systems and keeping track of
the divers. While technician Mark Hulsbeck
is giving me an introduction to
the life support systems, we are being watched by someone
on shore. There are cameras all over
Aquarius. They send their signals through
a cable up to the Life Support
Buoy, where the signal is beamed wirelessly back to
the antenna on shore. Here at the watch desk, another
technician monitors activity,
electrical systems and life support. This is an
additional layer of safety. If
there is some kind of emergency, help will be on the way
immediately. Meanwhile, down at Aquarius, I
have to leave. I can only stay
a little more than an hour because I have to return to the
lower pressure at the surface
or I’ll have decompression sickness. The biologists however, are out
working on the reef, conducting
their study of reef sponges. They wear double scuba tanks so
they can carry a lot of air.
Even though they dive a hundred feet deep, they can spend hours
and hours doing their research,
utterly unconcerned about such trivial things as
decompression sickness. They can spend as much time as
they like on the reef, because
they don’t need to go to the lower pressure of the
surface after their dive.
Instead these aquanauts will
return to Aquarius. When their scuba tanks get low,
the aquanauts head over to the
nearest gazebo. It’s sort of like an oasis for divers.
It’s filled with air. Inside
they can take their masks off, talk to each other and
fill their scuba tanks from a
high-pressure hose from
Aquarius. After an air fill, the
aquanauts can go back on out
the reef for a few more hours! Eventually though, they get
hungry and come back to
Aquarius for lunch. The next day, I have another
hour to spend in Aquarius, so I
go during lunch to meet these sponge-studying aquanauts! What is it you can do here that you can’t do from the surface? Why do you have to go through all this? We have over 900 sponges that we visit every year. And it just takes so long that we really need a lot of bottom time. And like this morning we did a 6 hour dive but if we were to do that from boats from the surface, that would have taken us probably 6-10 dives. After lunch, the Aquanauts gear
back up and head out for
another few hours work. They may swim quite a ways to their
research site, but they have
safety lines to lead them back home to Aquarius. Aquarius isn’t just a home for
aquanauts. Over the years,
coral and sponges have grown all over the structure. It has
been transformed into an
artificial reef, with thousands
of fish taking up residence.
They’re all used to divers. One
of the resident tarpon comes right up to my camera for a
close look. Cameraman Tim investigates a
purple coloration on the hull
of Aquarius, only to be attacked by an angry Sargeant Major—a
kind of damselfish. The purple
coloration is an egg nest. The tiny eggs are stuck to the hull
by the female and guarded by
the male—and he’s not happy! Aquarius is home to fish as
well as people. While the marine residents have
all they need, the humans
inside need constant supplies
from the surface. Drinking water is
brought down each day by
surface support divers. Air gets pumped down all the
time by the Life Support Buoy
overhead. It continually
overflows out the bottom of the wet
porch, so the air inside stays
fresh. If the pumps in the Life Support Buoy failed, there is a
huge supply of air in reserve
tanks next to Aquarius. Getting dry things like food,
cameras and towels down to
Aquarius presents a bit more of a challenge, but the team
came up with a brilliantly
simple solution. “So, this is a modified paint
pot, they apparently don’t make
them anymore…” It looks like a giant pressure
cooker. This heavy steel
container has a valve on top for equalizing internal pressure,
and 8 strong clamps to keep it
closed. Depending on how heavy the
stuff inside is, a diver may be
able to handle it alone. Or an
air-filled lift bag might be required to
keep it from sinking. Once the pot is delivered, the
valve is opened to bring it up
to the same internal pressure as Aquarius, and the clamps
come off. With any luck,
everything is dry. In the last
ten years, only one has leaked. At the end of their week in
Aquarius, the aquanauts must go
through one long decompression to bring their bodies back to
surface pressure. They rest for
about 18 hours, watching Blue World DVDs of course, while the
pressure inside Aquarius is
brought back down to that of the surface. For a few hours, they
wear masks and breathe pure
oxygen. Aquarius serves as one huge decompression chamber. In spite of all the effort
required to keep Aquarius
running, this underwater lab is
actually not very expensive to operate:
about $10,000 per mission day.
That might sound like a lot, but it’s actually inexpensive
when the number of diving hours
are all added up. Four
scientific divers can rack up 32-40
combined hours underwater each
day. We know very little about the
oceans, just because they’re so
difficult to study. But we do know that the oceans are
incredibly important to our
planet, our atmosphere and all life on Earth. The more we
know about the oceans, the
better we can protect and nurture the entire Earth’s
environment. Aquarius Reef Base
is the world’s only underwater research station serving on the
front lines of cutting-edge
ocean research. And with
continued funding, it will be helping
scientists study the ocean for
many years to come. ( ♪ music )

100 thoughts on “Aquarius Reef Base | JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD”

  1. It would be amazing if they could build one of these at the bottom of Mariana's Trench and build specialized diving suits so people could walk/swim around down there and actually study the animals that live there.

  2. Failed to show us how they stop the water getting in during decompression
    It’d be cool to have seen that

  3. I used to go here every year with my church group to snorkel, we were allowed to swim over it and if you had good lungs can swim down to the windows, we stayed in a room 10 yrds away and it was really cool to go every year

  4. waste of energy to have divers bring things down when you can just hook a jig system or elevator type of settup

  5. Fishes guarding eggs: ok guys, we have eggs to protect how do we defend them from the sea monkeys?

    Uhhh, well, what do they have that we don’t?

    Hair

    Ok. Then that’s their week spot definitely.

    Yup. Attack that.

    Sure thing boss

  6. The one thing I don't get airplanes I understand they have to be a certain size 4 weight and fuel consumption spacecraft I get it for aerodynamics for leaving and entering the atmosphere Dwayne God is that underwater laboratory so cramped what's stopping them from making it hugethey don't have to worry about aerodynamics they don't have to worry about fuel consumption they don't have to worry about oxygen is being pumped in from 60 feet above I mean did they run out of the money after the first couple million at the building it? That's the only thing I can see why they made it so tiny

  7. This feels like something I'd watch on Saturday mornings as a kid after Pokemon was over. And I mean that in a good way

  8. If this isnt just the absolute dream, I dont know what is man. Divinng every day, living in the ocean, what could be better?

  9. I'm sorry but if I was diving and found this not knowing what it is I'd try to stay there forever

  10. Wow this is totally amazing Sir Jonathan! Great idea to have laboratory in the middle of the deep blue sea 😱

  11. Builders:
    say what kind of house you want to build
    Scientists: Oh I know what I want an underwater house
    Builders: uhhh so bob how are we gunna do this
    Bob: watch Jonathan birds blue world
    Jonathan kick bob house door open
    Jonathen: DID YOU SAY UNDER WATER LAB!!!????

  12. Saving a ton of money for that much since they can get so much more done. Family motto: you can miss a day sales but never a says production!

    Even if it had no practical purpose happy to see some federal tax $ going to something interesting + imagination expanding! 🐠

  13. I'd love to see one of those here https://youtu.be/kgU4bCZN0vg?t=611 The pressure pot is a pressure cooker with a valve. The valve allows you to take the lid off because the pressure is less inside, not more as in a pressure cooker, and would suck the lid , making it impossible to get it off.

  14. @BlueWorldTV how you build the underwater lab ? I hope you can teach me beacause i have the same dream that i want to build the underwater lab for my reasearch.

  15. All that freeze dried food. Great if you're young but if you're 40 and over it's nightmare food, the salt content is horrendous!

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