For centuries, humanity has had an obsession with exploring. It seems as though every time an obstacle has come up, human ingenuity has been there to knock it down. Even today, we are pushing the boundaries of exploration, yet, even so, much of our planet remains an unexplored mystery to us.
Which part, specifically? The world’s oceans..
The Earth’s ancient seas have mystified us for thousands of years, and this intrigue has led to some of the most important inventions in the history of diving and exploration. Early depictions of divers date all the way back to 500 BC, when the tale of Scyllis was first told.
The 5th century BC historian Herodotus said, “During a naval campaign the Greek Scyllis was taken aboard ship as prisoner by the Persian King Xerxes I. When Scyllis learned that Xerxes was to attack a Greek flotilla, he seized a knife and jumped overboard. The Persians could not find him in the water and presumed he had drowned. Scyllis surfaced at night and made his way among all the ships in Xerxes’s fleet, cutting each ship loose from its moorings; he used a hollow reed as a snorkel to remain unobserved. Then he swam nine miles (15 kilometers) to rejoin the Greeks off Cape Artemisium.”
A Time of Innovation
By the time the 16th century rolled around, many scientists and thinkers had realized that this method of diving was not going to cut it, in the long run. The major issue was that after about two feet or so, the pressure from the water surrounding the tube where air was received created a huge challenge for the diver, making it all but impossible to breathe the air from the surface.
Around this time, diving bells were first introduced as a way for divers to stay submerged for longer, while also allowing them to reach slightly deeper depths. In England and France, leather diving suits were soon constructed, allowing divers to reach depths of up to 60ft. Air was manually pumped to these suits from the surface. By the mid-1830s, these suits were metal, and were usable enough to carry out salvage operations.
In the 19th century, huge strides were made in the technological and scientific fields. Studies and research carried out by Paul Bert and John Scott Haldane, in particular, dramatically improved our understanding of how pressure interacts with the human body, which determines safe diving limits. This period also saw a tremendous growth in technological inventions such as regulators, compressed air pumps, carbon dioxide scrubbers, and more, allowing divers to stay underwater for amounts of time previously thought to be impossible.
Today, diving is a widely enjoyed hobby by millions of people around the world. The technology involved in the process continues to advance, getting cheaper, lighter, and more efficient each and every year. In America, over 500,000 new divers are registered per year, on average. The world’s largest diving association, PADI, maintains high standards of training and service in order to facilitate diving for all of these individuals, year after year. Many similar diving organizations now exist worldwide.
Types of Diving
There are four main types of diving, and each of them has their own history and stories. They are as follows:
1. Breath-Hold Diving (Freediving)
This is the earliest form of diving known to man, and it is still practiced across the world today, for both pleasure and commercial reasons. This ancient diving method has obvious limitations, and each dive is usually limited to around a minute or so. Divers must always return to the surface in time to get new air into their lungs, lest they risk developing hypoxia, and, in many cases, losing their lives.
2. Compressed Air from the Surface Diving
This type of diving originated in the 16th century and is still used today for several different commercial purposes, such as tunnel building, laboratory research, saturation diving, and more. The suits that divers must wear to engage in this sort of diving allow the divers to breathe at the same pressure as the water around them, so there is a risk of decompression issues if the diver were to ascend too quickly. This is often referred to as “the bends.” Different mixtures have been synthesized to allow divers to delve even deeper than compressed air allows. These include hydrogen-oxygen, helium-oxygen, and helium-nitrogen-oxygen mixtures.
3. Heavy Vessel Diving
This is a relatively new form of diving, having been first shown by the American HMS Turtle in 1776. These vessels have heavy walls that allow them to maintain their pressure when underwater. One such vessel is the bathysphere, a steel ball that allows divers to be hoisted down from a ship into the sea.
Many of these devices are powered, allowing them to move in any direction and replenish the oxygen supply inside the cabin for many hours at a time. Today, one-man armored suits exist that act as a heavy vessel, allowing divers to maintain triple-digit depths for hours at a time. This technology is always improving, and it is set to see some incredible advancement in the coming years.
4. Scuba Diving
Scuba diving in its modern form has two main types of operation: open-circuit and closed circuit. Open circuit diving involves using a respirator, venting all expired air up to the surface. Closed circuit diving, on the other hand, involves carbon dioxide being absorbed while oxygen is added, which keeps bubbles from reaching the surface. This form of diving is popular in military pursuits where visible bubbles are unwanted.
The history of man’s fascination with exploring the sea is a long and storied one. From the first Greek legends of underwater exploits to modern day deep-sea exploration technologies, humanity has and will continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in the open ocean.