The Age of Aquarius

For ten days, Pam Cox Jutte '93 lived and worked forty-seven feet beneath the ocean's surface, shedding new light on marine life, advancing her scientific research, and learning to love freeze-dried lasagna.


Living underwater in the Aquarius habitat saturates you--literally and figuratively--in the marine environment. Moored to the ocean floor four miles off the coast of Key Largo, Florida, forty-seven feet down, the Aquarius is the world's only underwater research facility. The scientists who live there, "aquanauts," acclimate their bodies to its fixed depth in what is known as "saturation diving," in which their tissues become saturated with dissolved gas. Once a diver is saturated, decompression--the time required to bring the diver back to surface pressure without inflicting the bends--is the same, regardless of the time spent underwater. As a result, Aquarius aquanauts can work underwater nearly nine hours a day.

Pamela Cox Jutte '93 was an Aquarius aquanaut last summer, taking part in a ten-day mission to study the ecology, behavior, and visual systems of stomatopod crustaceans--commonly known as mantis shrimp. Jutte, a research scientist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, became involved with the project through colleagues in California. After earning her bachelor of science degree in biology at Duke, she completed a Ph.D. in 1997 at the University of California at Berkeley. Her dissertation research focused on the ecology, behavior, and visual systems of a type of mantis shrimp.

Roy Caldwell, Jutte's former adviser at Berkeley, is a world-renowned mantis shrimp expert. When he received funding to use the Aquarius habitat to research mantis shrimp, he approached Jutte to see if she was interested in collaborating. Although currently studying the environmental effects of human activities on marine invertebrates, she jumped at the chance for an Aquarius mission and to study mantis shrimp again. Scuba-certified since 1991, she frequently dives for her current research.

The Aquarius mission would look at several aspects of mantis shrimp biology. Jutte's fellow aquanauts included Mark Erdmann '92, the Marine Protected Areas adviser for the U.S. Agency for International Development's Natural Resource Management Project in Bunaken National Marine Park in north Sulawesi; Helen Fox, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, studying coral regrowth after dynamite fishing; Alex Cheroske, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, researching mantis shrimp vision; and Mike Hutchens and James Talacek, dive specialists with the National Undersea Research Center, who maintained and operated the Aquarius habitat during the mission. The surface team included Caldwell, the principal in-vestigator for the mission; Tom Cronin Ph.D. '79, a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Karla Heidelberg, a research associate with the University of Maryland, College Park; and Nerina Holden, a strategic planning manager with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

The aquanauts and most of the surface team arrived in Key Largo about a week before the mission. Aquarius aquanauts are required to have logged at least 100 dives before they are eligible to descend to the lab, but because of the risks involved with saturation diving, intensive training is required for even these experienced divers. In normal diving, divers can return to the surface during an emergency. But surfacing is the main risk to saturated divers, since rapid ascension can cause a life-threatening case of the bends. Aquarius training involves five days of lectures on saturation diving techniques, safety, and habitat operation.

Aquanauts experience a wet world

Sea life: aquanauts Jutte and her colleagues experience the wet world of crustacean research, sometimes as deep as 110 feet, from their "space capsule" habitat.

Courtesy University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells

Two dives were completed each day near Aquarius, in part to familiarize divers with the nonstandard diving gear, safety drills, and to tour the habitat. Its quarters are tight, but include six bunks, a full bathroom, a galley, and viewing portals. Much of the space is taken up with laboratory equipment--video monitors, computers, and microscopes. Communications are sent by wireless telemetry to a surface buoy, then beamed to shore. Large canisters of oxygen and nitrogen provide the capsule's air, mixed at the same ratio as surface air.

After additional dives over the weekend to establish study sites, the aquanauts were ready to live underwater. Besides recording her scientific findings during the mission, Jutte kept a journal of her ten days beneath the waves, capturing her impressions of undersea life and the rewards and challenges of her research.

Day 1--July 16, 2001

This morning we hurry up and wait for our departure for the lab. When the time finally arrives, we aquanauts board the boat for a thirty-minute trip out to the Aquarius mooring site. It's hard to believe I won't be seeing the sun for the next ten days. We arrive above the Aquarius around 11:30. In addition to normal wetsuits, masks, and fins, our bulky aquanaut gear includes double tanks, a safety reel, a backup safety reel, a radio in a waterproof housing, and a pouch filled with a light, strobe, map, and various other safety gear. During our last minutes on the surface, my buddy Alex and I check each other's gear to confirm that no air is leaking from our scuba apparatus, and that there are no other equipment problems. We then descend to sixty-five feet, and begin our Aquarius mission.

We get right to work in the sandy areas surrounding the habitat, seeking two types of mantis shrimp, Nannosquilla and Bigelowena. We also spend part of our time examining the exterior of Aquarius. The habitat looks something like a space capsule. The actual living quarters are a long, school-bus-sized yellow cylinder perched about twenty feet above the seafloor on four sturdy legs. Periodically, as air is refreshed inside the habitat, a huge surge of bubbles escapes through the moon pool (an opening in the floor of the wet porch--our entrance to the ocean). On one side of the habitat, on the level of the living quarters, there is a white hexagonal structure called a gazebo. The gazebo is constantly replenished with air and serves as the location where aquanauts can meet and discuss research without entering the habitat. The gazebo has a separate air supply--should there be a problem with the habitat, we would escape to the gazebo and await rescue.

The habitat's sides are encrusted with all sorts of marine organisms, and a variety of fish use this as their permanent dinner buffet. There is also an omnipresent school of small, silvery baitfish. When you leave the wet porch to begin a dive, the school is so dense that you are enveloped in a cloud of pulsing silver. These fish also provide our entertainment at meal time--through the dining-room porthole, we see these bait schools being slowly depleted by the resident snook, barracuda, and grouper.

After spending about two hours in the water, Alex and I return to the habitat with the specimens we had collected. We take a few minutes to unpack. Each aquanaut's bunk has a small storage bin for clothes and toiletries. Each bunk is a little over six feet in length and about three feet wide. There are fresh sheets, a blanket, and a pillow on each bunk. I'm in one of the top bunks--with a little luck, I won't roll out of my bunk during the mission. Mark barely fits into his bunk, so I figure I could have it worse.

We complete another two-hour dive in the afternoon, mapping densities of stomatopods in areas near the habitat. Over dinner, we discuss the day's achievements, and develop our dive plan for the following day.

Aquanauts experience a wet world

Aquanauts experience a wet world. Courtesy University of Wisconsin-Madison. Undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells

Day 2--July 17, 2001

Alex and I start our day testing a piece of equipment called a polarimeter, which measures polarized light in the waters surrounding Aquarius. This will give us a good idea of the type of light experienced by mantis shrimp living in the area. Tom Cronin has fine-tuned this equipment and the software it uses. Alex stays inside and runs the computer. I take the polarimeter on the deck outside the habitat and dive by myself using the "hookah" system, a breathing line tethered to the habitat. In normal diving, your buddy is your backup air supply should a problem occur. In hookah diving, a scuba tank on your back functions as your backup air supply. Through a combination of flashing-light signals on the polarimeter and quick swims to look inside the habitat through a porthole where Alex is working on the computer, we are able to work out all the bugs.

Alex and I return to the sandy bottom to complete transects around the habitat. We measure out fifty-meter transect lines on the seafloor and move along the line, centimeter by centimeter, counting and identifying the mantis shrimp burrows. We want to collect at least five transects at this location, and five at deeper sites to determine if there are differences in densities and species diversity with depth. Following the completion of these transects, we search for the burrow of a Lysiosquilla, a very large mantis shrimp that can grow to more than a foot long. These lie-in-wait predators belong to the "spearer" group of stomatopods, having front appendages with large spines that are used to impale fish and other prey.

We find several large burrows, and set up an underwater video camera with infrared lights above one of the burrows. Various cables are strung back to the habitat, and we are able to watch the large male Lysiosquilla twenty-four hours a day as he hunts for food for his mate, who is hidden beneath the sand. We hope to record his behavior for at least a day and then capture and remove the male. These animals form monogamous pairs, and you would normally never see a female; however, Roy Caldwell's previous work has shown that once the male is removed, the female often gets a new mate. By videotaping the animal, we can get a better understanding of how the female may let other males know she is available.

Upon returning to the habitat, I take a quick shower. The shower onboard the Aquarius is located in the wet porch, where you enter from the ocean. The tiny shower stall is separated from the rest of the room by a curtain and has hot and cold water. The water is stored in tanks outside the habitat and must be delivered from the shore, so we are encouraged to take very quick "navy" showers. On the first day, we were all given a chamois to get rid of most of the water, and a single towel for any additional drying.

During dinner, we work on our dive plan for the following day. Mark and Helen have begun marking individual Odontodactylus burrows and are learning that many of these animals seem to have multiple burrows. After dinner, I head back out on the hookah at "storage depth" to hunt for stomatopod larvae. Since we are living at forty-seven feet during this mission, any dives that do not go deeper than that are considered "storage depth," and do not count as an official dive. I ask the habitat technicians, Hutch and James, to turn off the exterior lights around the habitat. Using small dive lights that attract various larvae, I can look into the surrounding waters for the distinctive stomatopod larvae. I don't find stomatopods but see all sorts of amazing larval critters floating in the water. When I turn my light toward the bottom, large stingrays, almost four feet across, can be seen swimming by. When I turn my dive light off, the surrounding water is filled with a beautiful bioluminescence.

Aquanauts experience a wet world

Aquanauts experience a wet world. Courtesy of Pam Cox Jutte, Mark Erdmann, NOAA and UNC-Wilmington.

Day 3--July 18, 2001

Alex is up early today to work on some experiments with Tom. They are using the polarimeter that Alex and I set up yesterday and are measuring the amount of polarized light at six a.m., noon, and six p.m. They will also use this device to measure the changes in the amount of polarized light as the polarimeter is pointed at different angles throughout the water column. Meanwhile, I get to sleep in until 7:30--the bunks may be small, but after our long days of diving, I am sleeping like a rock.

After the morning polarimeter measurements, Alex and I take our first dives to some of the deeper sites, around 110 to 115 feet. The Aquarius is set up with excursion lines to the deep sites--Northeast, S4, and the Pinnacle. If you picture the habitat as the center of a wheel, these excursion lines spread like spokes around it. The excursion lines allow you to get quickly and safely to more remote sites. In strong currents, and when you are worn out, you can use these lines to pull yourself along as you swim for some added "oomph." They also allow us to know exactly where we are with respect to the habitat. Bright orange plastic arrows along the excursion line indicate in which direction the habitat is located in case you get lost or disoriented in an emergency. These lines also allow the Aquarius staff to locate aquanauts should any accidents occur. Air lines run along two of these excursion lines, terminating in a tank-refilling station located inside a gazebo. These stations allow us to maximize our bottom time further by preventing time-consuming swims back to the habitat for more air.

After swimming past a pair of eagle rays, Alex and I descend to 110 feet, to the Northeast site. Mark and Helen have already set up a large quadrant and have begun identifying every Odontodactylus in the area. Alex and I complete one transect, our first at a deep site. After refilling, we head off in nearly the opposite direction to the S4 site, at approximately 100 feet down, and complete another transect.

After choosing among the different freeze-dried food we have available for lunch (I'm partial to the lasagna, and avoid the beef stew like the plague), Alex begins his next set of polarimeter experiments and the rest of us head out to dive. At this point, the wet porch is starting to get fairly smelly. We've been wearing the same wetsuits throughout the week of training and our first few days of the mission. After each dive, we rinse our seats in a potent mixture of cleaners meant to kill the smell and whatever is growing in our suits, and hang them over the moon pool in an effort to dry them out.

Aquanauts experience a wet world

Aquanauts experience a wet world. Courtesy of Pam Cox Jutte, Mark Erdmann, NOAA and UNC-Wilmington.Aquanauts experience a wet world

Back inside the lab, I send a few e-mails to friends and family. I get a message that my grandma is worried about me, so I send her a note to let her know that we have been well-trained, and have two great technicians and an on-call doctor. I also take this chance to write a note and post it on the fridge--"Hello Kirkersville OH and Charleston SC!" The fridge is located almost directly in front of one of the live video cameras that is posted on the Web.

Alex is having some foot problems--it seems to be the beginning of an infection. After consults via phone and e-mail with the doctor on the surface, he is kept out of the water. The doctor plans to make a trip to the habitat first thing in the morning.

I dry off for a few hours, then go back out on the hookah to search for stomatopod larvae. After an unsuccessful hunt, I take a quick shower and head to my bunk.

Day 4--July 19, 2001

We have postponed our dive this morning to wait for the doctor and find out whether Alex will be allowed to dive. His foot is starting to get red streaks--not a good sign. We're not sure how it happened, but even a little scratch can get infected when subjected to constant diving and the humid environment of the Aquarius. Hutch also has basic diver medical training. He says there are a couple of options. If oral antibiotics will fix Alex's foot, that would be the easiest route. Should the infection worsen, he could get intravenous antibiotics. This could also require getting Alex out of the habitat--either through confining him to a portion of the habitat and decompressing him there with a doctor, or ending the mission and decompressing the whole gang.

The doctor arrives and checks out my ailing buddy. Alex is immediately started on a series of antibiotics and instructed to stay out of the water all day. He's understandably disappointed, but is able to do additional polarimetry work from inside the habitat.

To maximize our dive time, I join Mark and Helen's buddy team for the day. We head to the Northeast site. While they continue mapping and observing Odontodactylus, I complete several transects to continue to map the sand-dwelling stomatopods. After more than three hours of diving at the Northeast site, we struggle back to the habitat. The current was especially strong today, and we are dragging several bags of equipment and two underwater video cameras.

While we conduct our research dives each day, Hutch and James are also very busy. They are responsible for the daily upkeep of the habitat, assisting with the procedures required for remote air fills, monitoring our dive tables, and doing exterior maintenance on the habitat. They are our liaison with the surface staff who provide our water, food, medical care, and other diving support.

In the afternoon, Mark and Helen return to the S4 site and continue assessing the stomatopod population there. I continue my collection of animals near the habitat. Mark and I have begun to wear socks inside our dive booties. Our feet are getting covered in blisters from the rubbing of our fins. We're also all starting to develop rashes, sores, and bruises--having so much fun that it hurts.

Day 5--July 20, 2001

Good news--after another "house call" by the doctor, Alex is able to return to the water. Mark has also been started on an antibiotic cycle for an infection on his neck. The doctor checked out all of our ears while he was down here. Due to the extended intervals we spend in the water, most of our ears are a bit sore, but we are all declared fit for diving.

We decide it's time for a little break from the science and go on a night dive just for fun. A reef looks completely different at night. Several spiny lobster, not nearly as shy as they are during the day, wave their antennae for our video camera.

Today Alex and I began some behavioral presentations. The surface team has delivered a standard twenty-gallon aquarium to us and, as we gear up for our dive, we take the tank, several of the mantis shrimp collected from the S4 site, and some hand nets. We have marked burrow locations near the habitat using bright orange flags. Odontodactylus burrows typically have two entrances approximately five to eight inches apart. The burrows are very distinctive--each entrance is ringed with small bits of coral and shell. The stomatopod can often be seen with about half its body sticking out of the burrow, a move that we nicknamed "prairie-dogging." After checking each burrow to determine if an animal is present and roughly how large the animal is, we invert the aquarium over the stomatopod's burrow. This technique allows us to introduce another animal into a confined arena, and prevents either animal from escaping.

The resident stomatopod is medium-sized, and we introduce a similar-sized male. Alex videotapes the interaction with a special video camera equipped with a polarized filter. This permits him to observe any polarized signals being used by the animals, and tie together vision-physiology work he conducts in the laboratory with actual behavior in the field. While it is interesting to know that an animal is capable of polarized vision through the array photoreceptors in their eyes that are sensitive to polarized light, it is also fascinating to learn through field observations how the animal uses this capability in its daily life.

Tonight, we decide it's time for a little break from the science and go on a night dive just for fun. A reef looks completely different at night. The corals aren't smooth surfaces, but tendrils reaching out to find the plankton. We see two hermit crabs, shells almost the size of basketballs, filtering the sand for food and scurrying across the seafloor. Basket stars that are tightly coiled during the day have climbed high into sea fans and spread their spider-web like arms to catch their dinners. Several spiny lobster, not nearly as shy as they are during the day, wave their antennae for our video camera.

About halfway through our dive, I notice Alex signaling to me. I turn around as a nurse shark swoops by and swims around us. We follow the shark and find it hunkered down between the coral spurs. As we swim back to Aquarius, I'm startled by how much the habitat really looks like a spaceship at night--you see first the glow of the exterior lights as you approach, and then you see Aquarius looming before you, surrounded by darkness.

We hunt for larvae again tonight and are finally successful. We isolate them in small plastic bottles, and plan to release and follow them as part of our work tomorrow.

Day 6--July 21, 2001

We all head to the Northeast site for the morning dive. The current today is the strongest it has been during the mission, and visibility is decreasing. I'm used to very low-visibility diving for the most of the work I do with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, but I have been spoiled since coming to Key Largo and expected the conditions to remain perfect. We spend about two hours at Northeast videotaping animals in their burrows, then head to the S4 site.

I am surprised at how well we can hear the engines of boats at the surface--even at depths of greater than 100 feet. From the sound, you would think there is a propeller just feet above your head. Along with the presence of fishing lures and line, this makes you realize that even in a marine sanctuary, there are still anthropogenic impacts.

After collecting another hour's worth of data, we return to the reefs around the Aquarius habitat to try to find burrows of Neogonodactlylus curacaoensis. This species inhabits small cavities in the walls of coral. They are beautiful animals with bright blue or purple raptorial appendages. We quickly learn to spot their little eyes peering out of the reef. We mark their burrows with yellow flags, planning to return to capture them. These animals will also be collected by the surface team at shallower depths. All the animals will be returned to the lab at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, where Tom and Alex will investigate the differences in the eyes of the same species living at different depths.

Hovering outside Aquarius at about fifty feet, we release the larvae we collected last night. When the bottle lid is slowly unscrewed, the tiny, transparent stomatopod larvae swim into the water column. Their eyes are dark, and by following their eyes, you can determine whether they swim up or down. Several of the larvae we collected have already settled overnight, meaning they have become bottom-dwelling juveniles. Of the three animals we released, all swam up toward the surface. Therefore, we'll need to catch more larvae tonight and repeat the procedure with the surface team who can safely follow the larvae toward the surface. Because our bodies are saturated with dissolved gasses, if we were to follow the larvae to the surface, we would quickly develop a possibly deadly case of the bends.

Tomorrow we plan to meet up with the surface team, and coordinating the effort is no easy task. We communicate via e-mail and talk briefly on the phone, but won't know until later tonight whether we will collect sufficient larvae to try a release in the morning. We decide to cross our fingers and hope to find larvae.

Day 7--July 22, 2001

Luckily, we did find larvae last night. Once again, several have settled overnight and are now bottom-dwelling

juveniles. However, we have four animals for the surface team to release. We are also planning to use underwater resin in an attempt to cast some of the stomatopod burrows. While most species have U-shaped burrows, we've found others that have more complex homes.

Even when the surface team gets to the bottom and we are ready to work, things are often difficult to coordinate. They are unable to pop inside the moon pool or gazebo to discuss plans because they are using nitrox. Nitrox is a mix of 32 percent oxygen and 68 percent nitrogen (normal air is 21 percent oxygen and 79 percent nitrogen) that is a great tool in diving--it allows longer bottom times and leaves you less tired after extensive diving. However, the Aquarius habitat is filled with air, and if the surface team comes inside the moon pool and breathes air instead of nitrox, they must switch to air tables and lose the increased bottom time allowed by nitrox.

As part of the day's work, we conduct plankton tows. Mark and Helen collect samples by swimming a fine mesh net through the water for a specified length of time. The plankton are sampled at different sites, over different substrates, and at different times of the day to get a better understanding of how stomatopod larvae and other plankton are distributed. Mark and Helen return each of the eight samples to the habitat one by one, where it's washed into a small bottle so all the tiny planktonic organisms can be preserved in ethanol. Because the flammable ethanol is not allowed inside the habitat, Karla has created an air-filled work space on the grating outside the habitat. It is simply a plastic storage bin, flipped upside down, tied to the grate, and then filled with air from our regulators. This air space allows us to put the sample bottles inside, and fill them with ethanol while keeping the habitat fume-free.

Later in the day, Karla, who will be processing the plankton samples and analyzing the data, sends us a special thank-you for the samples--a key lime pie! The pie just fits inside one of the large metal containers, or pots, that they use to transport equipment and supplies down to the habitat.


Day 8--July 23, 2001

Today will be our last full day of diving. We need to wrap up experiments and begin cleaning up any gear we have put at any of our study sites. We get an early start, heading back to the Northeast site to collect a lot of the animals that we have been observing over the last several days. We return them to the Aquarius to measure and sex each animal. This will allow us to better understand the distribution of the animals, and know more about the animals that we have been videotaping. Some of the stomatopods will be returned to U.C. Berkeley or the University of Maryland for behavioral or vision experiments, but many will be set free.

Aquanauts experience a wet world

Aquanauts experience a wet world. Courtesy of Pam Cox Jutte, Mark Erdmann, NOAA and UNC-Wilmington.Aquanauts experience a wet world

After another freeze-dried lunch--I am really looking forward to a steak and some ice cream right about now--Alex and I clean up most of the flags marking stomatopod burrows in the vicinity of the habitat, leaving only Neogonodactylus burrows marked. Mark and Helen are cleaning up at the deeper sites. After our cleanup, Alex and I continue behavioral presentations with Odontodactylus.

Alex and I return our camera and other gear to the Aquarius, and gather up the gear we needed to capture Neogonodactylus. These are the same animals that we marked on Day 6 of the mission. The collection technique was developed by Mark and Roy in Indonesia. A syringe is filled with a mixture of clove oil and alcohol, which acts as a sleeping pill for stomatopods. A small amount is squeezed into a stomatopod cavity. The concoction either causes the animal to "play dead" and be captured, or streak out of the cavity--ideally into our awaiting net. This allows us to obtain an undamaged animal without harming the coral or other reef inhabitants.

With our two teams, we return to burrows that we had previously marked. Often the animals are nowhere to be found. This suggests that they may use multiple burrows or, due to the high bioerosion of these reefs, these animals may have very deep burrows where they can retreat. We collect just a few animals and plan to return tomorrow to try again.

Day 9--July 24, 2001

Today is our very last day of diving in the habitat--we all are permitted a maximum of two hours in the water at depths shallower than 110 feet, and we must be back inside Aquarius before ten a.m. Our decompression takes place within the habitat, and will be a seventeen-hour process that begins later today.

During this morning's dive, all four of us focused on collecting Neogonodactylus. We had learned from the surface team that the few animals we caught the day before didn't survive--apparently the "stomatopod sleeping pill" is working a little too well, and the animals did not recover. We adjust the mixture, and each dive team captures several animals that seem to be okay. We later learn that most survive and can be taken to Berkeley and Baltimore.

All four of us spend absolutely every minute of our allowable two hours in the water. When we return to the habitat, all of our gear gets a nice long rinse. All of the smelly aquanauts also get a good rinse--we are permitted to take our first long "Hollywood" shower in days. Since we'll be leaving soon, we can use up the remaining water supply and be relatively clean in the close quarters we'll be occupying for the next seventeen hours. Then we change into our last set of clean clothes, saved for decompression.

Once we are locked down in the main part of the habitat, the Aquarius staff on the surface will take everything but our masks and fins--we'll need these for our last dive up to the surface tomorrow. We've packed most of our scientific gear and the majority of our personal items, which will also be "potted" back to the surface. We spend some time cleaning up the habitat--yes, there is a vacuum cleaner at seventy feet below.

Around four p.m., we begin decompression. A new member joins our Aquarius family--Thor, a diving technician whose job will be to monitor our decompression and "bring the bus back to the surface." Thor comes down to the habitat on scuba and goes through the entire decompression process with us. The first step of decompression is to get straight oxygen. After a briefing to let us know the normal (itchy skin) and abnormal (blotchy skin, swollen lymph nodes, twitching) symptoms of decompression, we are all confined to our tiny bunks.

Over the next hour, we are given straight oxygen in three twenty-minute sessions. Thor is instrumental in this process, because James and Hutch, the two technicians who have saturated with us, could suffer decompression sickness and must be observed like the rest of us. While we breathe oxygen, Thor slowly changes the pressure inside the Aquarius habitat, bringing us closer and closer to surface pressure without ever leaving our bunks. After completing these two hours, we are free to roam about the habitat. Over the next several hours, we watch a couple of movies and episodes of South Park as we slowly return to surface pressure.

Day 10--July 25, 2001

I wake bright and early at 6:30, enjoying the view out the bedroom porthole for a few minutes before I get up. Everyone does some last-minute packing and gathers at the table for breakfast. At eight a.m., the pressure inside Aquarius is at +.2 ft, and it's about time to leave.

We all cram inside the small lock between the main lock and the wet porch. After a warning to clear our ears early and often, the pressure inside this lock is quickly changed from "surface" to the ambient level of forty-seven feet. The door to the wet porch is opened. I put on my mask and fins and hop into the wet porch. We each receive a pony bottle--a small scuba tank--with a regulator attached. This will provide us with plenty of air to ascend to the surface, where a boat is waiting to retrieve us. An Aquarius staff person leads us out, and another follows the last aquanaut out of the habitat to ensure that our ascent rates are not too fast. I am the second aquanaut out of the habitat, and take a last look at our home of the last ten days.

When I reach the surface and hop onboard the boat, the first thing I notice is the wind blowing in my face. I have to admit that it feels pretty wonderful to be topside again. Back on shore, we all receive a medical exam, but besides tingling skin, no one suffered any symptoms of decompression sickness. After a twenty-four-hour confinement period--and several pints of ice cream--we were all deemed healthy and allowed to fly home after the required forty-eight hours.

My experience on the Aquarius habitat is something I will never forget. The opportunity to conduct research while living underwater not only expands the time you can spend collecting data, but gives you an awareness of the ocean that you can just never achieve with traditional diving. I'll admit that there were some minor inconveniences--smelly wetsuits, infections, and freeze-dried food--but they were far outweighed by things like seeing squid from your bedroom window, watching a lightning storm from underwater, and having almost endless diving time.

Jutte '93 is also an adjunct faculty member at the University of Charleston. Project funding was provided by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Aquarius is owned by NOAA and is operated by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

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