In the race to explore the unknown, space won over deep sea decades ago. The moon is better known than the ocean floor. Fabien Cousteau, grandson of the famous explorer, wants to change that. A. has created Water version of the International Space StationWhich will be located about 20 meters below the sea surface and will serve as a base for scientists from all over the world to spend months exploring the marine environment. The project is thriving: in May a According to NOAAThe US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which wants to use the base.
The future station will be called Proteus It will be built in a protected area off the coast of Curacao, an island in the Caribbean Sea. The facility is 371 square metres, and will have the capacity to accommodate up to 12 people for months. It will be the largest underwater habitat built to date.
“The study of the ocean is One of the most difficult things says Eugenio Fraile, a scientific researcher at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO-CSIC), who appreciates the creation of a permanent underwater laboratory as a “really relevant” step.
Because in the deep sea there is a vast unexplored field. Human I only know 5% From the oceans it is estimated that there are up to two million species left to discover. Scientists also haven’t figured out how the animals interact; There is no complete and stable series of accurate environmental data associated with climate change; For medicine, pharmacy or cosmetics, there are still hidden assets that herald a promising future.
“the biggest New gene reservoir “They are in the ocean, waiting for us to discover them,” says Friel, who also points out that obtaining long-term observations of a specific point in the ocean will allow us to reach new scientific milestones. “Seeing it is essential in the long term for understanding climatic and biological processes,” says the researcher.
However, the increasing pressure of the water, lack of light, oxygen and temperatures play against oceanographers. The marine environment is studied through expeditions, a form that is very limited in time, space and cost. “Our maritime knowledge is biased everywhere.”“, admits the monk. Achieving continuous and direct monitoring will be the same as seeing the entire movie at the end, instead of just seeing the skipped frames, explains Jaume Piera, researcher at the Marine Sciences Institute (ICM-CSIC).
Life on board
The solution: Living under the sea is not a new idea. Only between 1960 and the end of the 1970s were there some 70 underwater habitats To monitor the seabed, but they ended up being dismantled.
“The difficulties faced in the underwater environment, especially in remote and deep sites, as well as the significant expenses associated with operating underwater research stations, have historically proven to be a major problem.” A factor in the disappearance of seasons “Underwater research,” said Roger Garcia, COO of Aquarius, the only permanent underwater habitat currently on the high seas for research located near the Florida Keys (USA).
Life at the bottom of the sea is challenging. Its depth is twenty meters, equivalent to about Three atmospheres of pressure“The light arrives, but it is dim. There is social isolation,” explains Piera.
Roger Garcia says the experience is not easy. Aquarius lies at a depth of about 18 meters and is the size of a school bus (only 38 square meters for a maximum of six people). At this station, built in 1987, the first days of an expedition are always exciting, but “in the middle of the week, people start to get tired because of the long days and the stress that the underwater environment, in these conditions, exerts on the human body.” At the end of the Saturation immersion (which adapts the bloodstream to the pressure of the surrounding water), people have mixed feelings. “They’re ready to leave, see sunlight again, their families, etc., but they’re also a little saddened by the fact that they may never have the opportunity to live underwater again,” says the operations manager.
The harsh conditions have turned the habitat into a field Tests for NASA astronauts. “Most, if not all, of those who have been in space and also dived Aquarius during an analogue space mission said that the operational challenges they faced in both extreme environments were very similar,” Garcia says.
Proteus would be About ten times larger From Aquarius, which improves space constraints. A preliminary design developed by studio Fuseproject shows a large two-level circular station, topped with expandable modules that will house laboratories, bedrooms, bathrooms, medical bays, a living room, a kitchen and even the first dedicated underwater hydroponic greenhouse. Residents can grow fresh plant foods and solve the challenge of not being able to cook with an open flame.
“Cooking with open flames is very dangerous, given the concentration of oxygen in space,” explains Roger Garcia about the problem these underwater plants share. According to his calculations, Fire inside Aquarius will spread about 25 times faster than it would on the surface. “The microwave can be used to heat or cook food, even though it is actually our main meals Dried foods “Which is reconstituted with hot water,” he says.
In Proteus, social problems will be added to technical and logistical problems. “Two of the biggest challenges to staying underwater longer are Social isolation and lack of light “Natural,” say those responsible for designing Proteus. Fuseproject has filled the underwater station with windows, incorporated common rooms and a spiral ramp that connects the station’s two levels and will allow its “residents” to walk. There will also be an internet-enabled video production room that will provide live streaming to researchers.
Proteus would cost approximately 100,000 to build and maintain for the first three years 120 million euros As Cousteau admitted to Forbes, a number he began collecting three years ago. The company did not want to make statements to the media after the Titan submarine tragedy, but it is expected that once the station is launched, the annual operating cost will amount to about two and a half million euros, which will be recovered thanks to the rent. Of research facilities.
“Having an international station that covers expenses, with common goals and different fields of study, is the way to advance knowledge,” says Friel, who highlights the suitability of the location chosen, on the edge of a cliff that will allow research not only what exists on the continental shelf but what exists in the depths. Larger. The idea is to make the most of this new housing. Stop being mere observers of the marine environment Ocean inhabitants.
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