The more-certain future of Aquarius, the last undersea science lab
A recent grant is enough to keep Aquarius, the world's only remaining underwater research habitat, actively maintained by its salty crew. But it won't cover scientific mission funding. Aquarius lives, but it's also like it's taking a long nap.
Last summer Aquarius reef base--the world's only remaining underwater research habitat where scientists can live and work underwater for over a week at a time--conducted its final mission in the Florida Keys, after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cut its already meager funding from $3m to $0.
I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks diving down to the base last summer and got to see first hand how some experiments really require scientists to be stationed underwater. Some experiments can't be conducted yet by telepresence using robots because of lack of precision or resolution, nor can some experiments be set up during the limited dive time afforded by scuba.
But last week brought good news that Florida International University won a grant to keep Aquarius going. Sort of.
The grant is enough to keep Aquarius actively maintained by its old salty crew, who are full of esoteric knowledge and who know how to keep this thing from rotting away, like all manmade things quickly do in the salt water. But it won't cover scientific mission funding, and so, Aquarius lives, but it's also like it's taking a long nap.
During this nap, the remaining crew of the Aquarius--those who didn't leave for other jobs while the future of the base looked grim--will be busy visiting the base to keep it in good shape. They'll keep the outside of the base from being overgrown with bio matter by scrubbing the view ports and doing everything they can to make sure the top side communications, life support and diesel generators are in solid enough shape to eventually support aquanauts, defined as those visitors who stay under and live in the habitat for at least a night.
When will missions resume? FIU says by summer the team could host short visits for education or outreach, but Tom Potts, the Director of Aquarius Reef Base, cautions that full-blown,week-long undersea science missions could take awhile. "I don't anticipate we'll run a full-blown saturation mission this year, as we need to establish the new shore base and hire a few more staff,” he says.
Dr. Jim Fourqurean, a FIU biology professor, will be overseeing the base's activities. He says that while NOAA's funding will allow them to keep the base as-is, they're talking with and thinking about working with private and public agencies like "NASA and the Navy and private underwater engineering companies and space agencies" to see who might use the unique base and help fund its operations. (NASA used the base for its NEEMO missions, famous for, among other things, being a great place to test zero-g mission scenarios like how they'd blow up an asteroid before it could collide with Earth.)
He added that FIU is an ideal home for Aquarius as they ramp up their "research, teaching and outreach activities in the Florida Keys." (Which is a rare and pleasant thing to hear since a lot of non-commercial ocean research funding seems to be shrinking.)
Like many oceanographic research facilities, access to Aquarius has been exclusive in the last century. But if things go right, Potts anticipates a modern upgrade to Aquarius that'll help justify its existence to those who aren't some of the few hundred or so aquanauts lucky enough to live under the sea so far. He says, "We will be seeking funding to turn Aquarius into a fully instrumented, high-tech observation post that beams detailed data on ocean health directly to the web. We also look forward to upgrading the existing communications systems so that it is easier to allow a virtual presence on the habitat by anyone with a fast internet connection."
As always, it depends on the funding.
YouTuber Retic over at Prehistoric Pets TV has a huge collection of pythons and other ancient creatures. Here he shows how and why a clutch of python eggs can be lifted up in giant sticky clumps.
If you’ve been using or abusing an opioid, then your pee’s been full of opioids. When your opioid-laced pee gets flushed away, those opioids wind up in our water: our reservoirs, streams and oceans. And that, friends, is why mussels are failing drug tests. According to CBS News, scientists at Washington’s Department of Fish & […]
Transgender model and activist Munroe Bergdorf hosts the new Channel 4 documentary What Makes a Woman? Science and society are grappling with the complex and contentious topics of sex, sexuality, and gender. New research and evidence demonstrate that simplistic binaries are more complicated than previously believed.
Businesses big and small use Microsoft Excel for everything from data visualization to bookkeeping, and chances are you’ve already had some exposure to this ubiquitous tool. Whether you’re looking to improve your hiring potential or boost your Excel efficiency, the Ultimate All-Level Excel Bootcamp can get you Excel-savvy with nearly 70 hours of training, and it’s […]
The workday is long, and inevitably, you’re going to find yourself needing to take a break from the daily grind. With Mini Materials Miniature Cinder Blocks, you can take some time for yourself and decompress by turning your desk into a miniature construction site. They’re available today in the Boing Boing Store for $22.49. Handmade […]
Handheld radios might seem a bit archaic, but in an emergency situation, few things will keep you as reliably connected to the outside world. This Emergency Multi-Function Radio & Flashlight takes the utility of the tried-and-true radio and combines it with a powerful flashlight and self-sufficient energy system. It’s available in the Boing Boing Store for […]