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2010 Aquarius Mission - If Reefs could talk
Mission info 2007 Nancy Foster Cruise
 

Meet Aquarius

A side view of the Aquarius just prior to deployment in November, 1993
A side view of the Aquarius just prior to deployment in November, 1993
Aquarius Reef Base is a unique ocean science and diving facility located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The base includes the Aquarius undersea laboratory, an ocean-observing platform with access to real-time data via the Internet, and a shore-based field station. The undersea habitat is owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the program is operated out of Key Largo, Florida by the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW).

Aquarius sits in about 60 feet of water within a sandy expanse at the base of Conch Reef, about four miles off the coast of Key Largo. It is situated within a specially designated research only zone. Through saturation diving techniques, Aquarius allows scientists to live and work underwater 24/7 for missions that average ten days. This technique enables the aquanauts to gather much more information than a normal dive team.

The Workings of Aquarius
The Aquarius lab is a three-part system, which includes a Life Support Buoy, or LSB, a 120 ton baseplate, and an 85 ton "habitat" that provides living and working space for a six person crew. The LSB is a large discus buoy, 30 feet in diameter, which hosts generators to power Aquarius, compressors for air to be pumped down, and a telemetry communications system. The habitat itself is a 9 feet diameter by 43 feet long steel cylinder that can support operations to depths of 120 feet. The habitat includes a seawater interface in a "Wet Porch", and two pressure locks known as the Entry Lock and Main Lock. Approximately 400 square feet of living and laboratory space is available for operations and science. The lab is equipped with computers networked to shore, Internet, telephones, radios, video conferencing and broadcast equipment.

Floor Plan of Aquarius
Aquarius Floor Plan

An aquanaut heads back to the Aquarius
An aquanaut heads back to the Aquarius.
Water Pressure and Dive Time
Aquarius is an ambient pressure habitat, which means that the interior atmospheric pressure is equal to the surrounding water pressure. The entryway within the Wet Porch, called the moon pool, remains open as the equivalent air pressure inside prevents the water from flowing in. The pressure at Aquarius is about 2.5 times greater than the atmospheric pressure found at sea level. At this depth and pressure, non-saturated visitors to Aquarius have less than about 80 minutes to visit and return to the surface before they risk experiencing decompression related illness. However, the mission aquanauts living in Aquarius can stay indefinitely and have 6 to 9 hours of diving down to about 95 feet each day, with unlimited time at the base depth. At the end of a mission, aquanauts undergo a 17-hour decompression that is conducted on the bottom within Aquarius itself. After decompression, they exit Aquarius and scuba dive back to the surface.

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