Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mankind's ongoing conquest of the blue frontier

First off, Sea Orbiter has been fully funded and is partway through construction as we speak. It is scheduled to be launched in 2013. Sea Orbiter is a semi-submersible ocean going craft, most of which is underwater living/observation/laboratory space. The bottom two decks are pressurized to outside levels and accessible from the decks above it by airlock. This allows divers to freely enter and exit 60 feet down through a moon pool. The pressurized deck also includes a submersible hangar, such that a deep diving sub can be deployed regardless of choppy surface conditions.

This is pretty much the Sea Quest DSV, except partially above water. It'll travel the oceans and give scientists the same saturation diving capability as Aquarius, but mobile.

 Meanwhile, China's nationalized deep sea mining outfit is constructing a 33 man deep sea mining station. This will be only the second 1atm underwater habitat in history, the first to be nuclear powered, the first to house so many people simultaneously, and the second to be capable of deploying submersibles (the first was Conshelf 2).

(Not an actual artist's impression, but consistent with the description as a "sea station" that does not rest on the ocean floor but rather hovers partway down.)

 Next up, Brazil's oil giant Petrobarras is looking to revolutionize deep water drilling and avoid both the potential for a BP style spill and the ongoing wear and tear on floating oil rigs that are exposed to the weather by designing "underwater cities", mostly automated ocean floor oil rigs that robotically manage the process of drilling, and tending to the well itself in the event of a leak. As this will be in very deep water, the only habitable spaces will presumably be very small, spherical, and permit engineer access in the event of some malfunction that requires direct access.

Other companies share these plans, and have already begun constructing seafloor rigs in the Arctic to avoid the severe storms on the surface:

 Other deep sea mining initiatives, some nationalized and some private, continue development with Nautilus Minerals already on site in Papau New Guinea preparing to begin mineral extraction.

 Kampachi Farms has acquired Kona Blue and will be expanding their undersea farming operation to include numerous new geodesic enclosures:

Applying the farming techniques used on land to the ocean will spare it from trawling and other destructive practices while greatly multiplying it's food output. It's also potentially a great application for ambient pressure shallow water habitats as worker housing.

The recent explosion in high profile undersea projects is completely consistent with my expectations. As we find ourselves increasingly in need of resources that are running low on land we'll inevitably turn to the seafloor, a landmass larger than all continents combined, with untouched preindustrial densities of precious metals and potential to feed the world through aquaculture. Space is unquestionably our future, but it looks like the ocean is our present. And it will have to be; Only by moving into the ocean and becoming inhabitants of it will we gain a direct stake in it's preservation. The NIMBY principle, as applied to oceanic conservation, may be what saves our seas.


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