by Jakub Šimánek
Photos courtesy of Divesoft unless otherwise noted. Illustrations by Aleš Procháska. Header photo by Martin Strmiska.
Full Disclosure: Divesoft is a sponsor of InDepth.
With open circuit diving, there is a general consensus that what is simple is safer and more functional, and the community has adopted simple, yet sufficiently redundant configurations. However, as rebreathers have come to the fore, it is time to ask what is necessary and simplest, and what can no longer be simplified.
The simplest way is not always the best way
The simplest, functionally ingenious, and—in principle—trouble-free rebreather is undoubtedly the oxygen rebreather. Simplicity itself. Breathing bag, CO2 absorber, oxygen bottle, oxygen regulator, breathing hose, and directional mouthpiece is all you need. I wish this was the final solution! Unfortunately, as we know, with only oxygen we can not safely dive very deep and it is necessary to complicate the device quite a bit to do so.
Rebreathers have been developed through semi-closed, electronic closed circuit (eCCR), manual closed circuit (mCCR, and passive semi-closed (PSCR). We already know that if we want a safe device that allows us to dive deep, we cannot do without electronics, because all mechanical solutions have their limitations. SCR wastes too much gas, PSCR is much more economical, but decompression is not ideal. Manual CCR is as powerful as electronically controlled closed circuit in terms of gas savings and decompression efficiency, but has depth limitations due to the blocked reference ports in the first stage regulator, which sense ambient pressure. As a result the intermediate and ultimately the low pressure delivered by the regulator does not increase with depth.
While an open circuit regulator valve delivers a fixed pressure of gas above ambient pressure, a mCCR constant flow valve, aka a leaky or trickle valve or fixed orifice, delivers a fixed pressure of gas, in this case oxygen, independent of depth. Accordingly, the valve will deliver oxygen until the ambient pressure is equal to the pressure of gas exiting of the flow valve. So, for example, if the flow valve delivers a pressure of 10 bar, the depth will be limited to 90 m/294 ft or 10 bar of pressure ATA.
This is not the only thing that is problematic on mCCR. mCCRs have been designed with maximum simplicity and with the elimination of “dangerous” electronics—excluding oxygen sensors—in mind. This moves the most critical part, i.e., the control of the partial pressure of oxygen, to the constant flow nozzle with manual addition by the diver. However, the diver is a human who can suffer from bad moods and bad concentration. They can underestimate the situation, have limited ability to concentrate on multiple things at once, especially in ‘critical’ situations and are impacted by limited visibility, cramped space, inert gas effects and great depths etc.
We want to avoid electronics and take control, but we must acknowledge that the weakest link in the whole chain is ourselves. How does our human error rate compare with electronics? How accurate are our oxygen injection calculations vs the machines? Aren’t human factors the hottest topic of recent times in the diving world? The answers are obvious when we consider that one makes three to six mistakes per hour.1
Personally, not counting the testing of pre-production prototypes, I have not had a dive computer fail underwater since 1996. There are no statistics on underwater electronics failure, but I would argue that the ratio of human error rate vs. the error rate of electronic dive computers is quite high. And what is the difference between a dive computer and a rebreather control electronics? Only that the control electronics of the rebreather processes information from multiple sources and has a software algorithm for controlling the solenoid.
Yet some people choose mCCR anyway. Research2 has even shown that people are more willing to trust other people and forgive inevitable human mistakes rather than trusting computers.
Machines can’t think, and we can’t do that for them. We have to think for ourselves, but we can entrust straight forward calculations to computers. They are much better at it than we are.
Important Things Must Be Redundant
Electronic devices have become an integral part of our lives. We wake up with them, we move with them on the ground, in the air, in space, and underwater. We spend the whole day with them, and we fall asleep again with them in the night. Some electronic devices work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Electronics help us in critical situations. When we are driving a car (ABS and other electronic systems), we let it navigate us from point A to point B. We entrust our lives to it when we travel by airliners, which today cannot function without electronics at all. The development of electronics is constantly advancing, but we must admit that electronics, like any other part of the device, can fail. If it is a mobile phone or a television, it is not usually a tragedy, but if it is a hard drive on which you have your family photos, or the results of your many years of work, for example, or a device on which human life depends, the data or device must have a reliable back up.
We all know it from both diving and everyday life, that those who do not back up their data will be sorry when they lose it. Those who do not have a backup plan in diving, a backup source of gas, can lose their lives. We are talking about redundancy.
Redundancy when diving with open circuit means having two first and two second stages, a buddy team, enough gas for the diver and their partner to surface, a buoyancy compensator that is backed up by a dry suit and any measuring device, such as a computer, sufficiently backed up by a second measuring device. So there is partly a kind of team backup. CCR failures cannot neccesarily be solved by team backup; a complete OC bailout ascent should be the last solution when there is no other option left. CCR cannot be backed up by a team member; CCR cannot be shared by two divers. The rebreather must contain its own back up.
What is a Fault Tolerant System?
A fault tolerant system is a feature that allows a system (often a computer system) to continue to work properly even if one of its components fails. Fault tolerance is desirable for systems with high availability or providing vital functions such as a space shuttle or an aircraft, so why not a rebreather? Life depends on it just as much.
As already mentioned, a rebreather is a complex system. What does such a system consist of? The electronic control unit receives information from several sensors, evaluates the data, and calculates the appropriate next action such as firing the injector, adjusting the decompression calculation, etc. The input systems are as follows: a pressure sensor, oxygen sensor, RTC (real time counter), and possibly additional helium or CO2 sensors. We also need a power source, i.e., a battery, and a user interface in the form of a handset or a simple display of PO2 values. Those are the basics.
Therefore, in order to appreciate what a fault tolerant rebreather is, let’s first look at a standard eCCR as shown in Fig. 1. The system is very vulnerable. A single error can cause us to either execute special skills or go straight to bailout. Try to imagine a failure of a battery, a single sensor, a solenoid, or a control unit.
The next diagram illustrates a fault tolerant rebreather schema—namely the Divesoft Liberty CCR (Fig.2)
We start the dive with a fully functional rebreather. The loop is not very different from a conventional rebreather, except that all elements are doubled (a manual add valve (MAV) and automatic diluent valve (ADV), an oxygen MAV and two solenoids). In addition, the electronics are doubled: two control units, two main displays, two secondary displays (HUD and buddy display (BD), solenoids, batteries, and all sensors are doubled. These are actually two self-sufficient systems that are interconnected and can communicate with each other.
Let’s phase out the individual components and observe how robust and resilient the fault tolerant system is. Let’s say I just cut off the handset cable in the wreck. Nothing is happening, I still have a second handset that shows me all the data and I am able to control the whole device. In addition, water does not leak into the device, because the cables are protected by watertight partitions on all inputs and outputs.
Oops, I broke the second handset against a rock. Still, nothing is happening. All the sensors work and I am able to read the ppO2 from the HUD. One of the batteries is exhausted/failed. This means the loss of one CU. But, I still have two oxygen sensors and therefore two O2 sensors, depth sensors, a solenoid. I can still continue on the unit and return safely to the surface without any need to intervene.
How To Make A System Fault Tolerant
The fault tolerant rebreather design consists of three basic parts:
1. A robust software solution
2. Hardware redundancy
3. A fault detection system
Complex software for modern CCRs consists of individual software modules. The software modules (tasks) are: ppO2 measurement, ambient pressure measurement, ppO2 regulation, decompression calculation, and the user interface. Which of these components probably experiences the most errors? Of course, every software engineer sees it right away; it’s the user interface—the most complex part of almost any software. What’s with that?
The solution is simple. We separate the user interface into another hardware-separated unit, i.e., a handset. It communicates with the rest of the system, i.e., with the control unit via the bus, in a fixed, formal, precisely defined manner. In the event of a fault, it only stops working, but the vital core of the system goes on (Fig.4).
Because the control unit (CU) does not include a user interface, it can be programmatically divided into small, simple modules that are easier to verify.
The second principle is hardware redundancy. For hardware redundancy to really work as fault tolerant, it requires a sophisticated system.
Figure 5 shows a primitive rebreather without redundancy. One mistake is enough and it is inoperative (Fig.5).
We improve the system by placing three oxygen sensors. In addition to these, we connect a backup monitoring system, and the battery is doubled (Fig.6).
Figure 7 shows another improvement: a separate oxygen sensor for backup. As in the previous case, the backup is short-circuit-proof on the measuring bus (Fig.7), all of which combine to form a fail-safe system. If any one element fails, it may not necessarily remain functional, but we will immediately learn about the problem and go to the bailout.
Further improvements: everything is completely doubled. In case of any one fault, the system remains functional (Fig.8). In this case, we can already talk about a fault tolerant system.
Third principle: a fault detection system? If I only have two oxygen sensors (Fig. 9) in each part of the system, it is not possible to automatically evaluate which one is defective (but a diver can decide manually because he or she sees all four sensors). How do we solve the problem?
Add three plus three sensors. This will, of course, double the cost of sensors. (Fig.10)
Alternatively, enable each system to see all four sensors. The problem is that it is not at all easy to prevent a short circuit on one system (ex: flooding with salt water) not to short the other system at the same time (Fig.11).
Or, simply connect both systems via a bus, through which they can send the measured values from the sensors to each other. The bus is much easier to disable in the event of a short circuit thanks to analog measurement.
And, other sensors (depth, temperature, etc.) are treated in the same way, effectively doubling them.
Internal complexity does not mean complexity for the user.
If we look at the fault tolerant rebreather scheme, one may think that the system is too complex, but that’s just on the inside. We have already shown that an increased number of components does not lead to a greater risk; on the contrary, in the case of a completely redundant system, it leads to greater safety.
Externally, on the other hand, the control of such a system is very simple and the user does not feel the internal complexity at all. It’s like driving a modern car full of the latest cutting-edge technology, and all we need to do is step on the gas and turn the steering wheel and enjoy the d(r)ive.
- Edkins G., Human Factors, Human Error and the role of bad luck in Incident Investigations, May 23th 2016
- Andrew Prahl and Lyn M. Van Swol; “The Computer Said I Should: How Does Receiving Advice From a Computer Differ From Receiving Advice From a Human,” presented at the 66th Annual International Communication Association Conference, Fukuoka, Japan, 9-13 June 2016.
- Procháska Aleš; Principles of Fault tolerant rebreather“ 2016, powerpoint presentation
aquaCORPS #12 Survivors: Designing a Redundant Life -Support System by William C. Stone (1995)
Jakub Šimánek graduated as a biology and physical education teacher from Charles University in Prague. Thanks to his father, he has been diving since childhood. He transferred his experience from teaching, biology, diving and sports to his instructor activities. Since 2012, he has been working in Divesoft, where he participates in the analysis and development of diving equipment, mainly rebreathers. He has been working as a Factory Instructor Trainer since 2014 and is an author of training procedures for this device. He is currently actively involved in developing and diving with bailout rebreathers.
Decompression Habitats Are Ascendent
Armed with reliable rebreathers, expedition-grade scooters, electric heating, helium mixes, high-powered dive computers, and those all-important P-valves, today’s cave explorers are giving our collective underwater envelope a hard shove (deeper and longer), all the while enduring increasing hours of long, cold, boring decompression. That’s the reason that the use of deco habitats—first pioneered by Dr. Bill Stone in the late 1980s—is on the rise. Here anesthesiologist-cum-cave explorer Andy Pitkin explains everything you need to know about modern deco habitats from their history, construction, and positioning to ensuring adequate, safe breathing gas flow.
By Andy Pitkin
Cold. Hungry. Uncomfortable. Bored. These adjectives can aptly be applied to the vast majority of divers during the decompression portion of advanced technical dives. The commercial diving industry, less concerned about divers’ comfort and more interested in safety and efficiency, has long incorporated decompression in a dry chamber for anything other than shallow diving operations. Unfortunately, with the notable exception of Bill Stone’s 1999 Wakulla 2 project, surface decompression in a pressurized chamber has been impossible for technical divers. The next best thing is a habitat.
Habitats are gas-filled spaces underwater that allow a diver to remain at pressure while getting part or all of their body out of the water. The name comes from experimental living quarters such as the Sealab series where divers would remain underwater for a number of days for (usually) scientific purposes. The habitats used for decompression by technical divers are much more modest, and this article will discuss the theoretical and practical considerations of decompression habitats, some of which are obvious, and some have had to be learned through real-world experience.
Advantages Of Habitats
The benefits of a decompression habitat are so self-evident that they hardly need to be mentioned. The most obvious is warmth, because of the much lower loss of body heat in a gaseous environment compared with immersion in water. Even if only the diver’s head is out of the water there is a significant improvement in both subjective and objective thermal homeostasis. Being out of the water reduces both the risk of oxygen toxicity and the severity of the consequences of a seizure, which is likely to be fatal underwater but could probably be survived in a habitat.
Eating and drinking is much easier, and the ability to talk, listen to music, watch movies and pass the time in relative warmth and comfort makes a long decompression of many hours much easier to tolerate, as well as being considerably safer. A habitat also can be used as a makeshift on-site recompression chamber, which could at least allow a diver’s symptoms to be stabilized while arrangements are made to support the necessarily lengthy in-water decompression phase.
Securing the Habitat
Decompression habitats have occasionally been installed in open water; examples include Martin Robson’s exploration of the Blue Lake in the Russian Caucasus mountains in 2012  and Michael Lombardi’s Ocean Space Habitat, also in 2012 . The overwhelming majority have been used in cave diving, because underwater cave exploration often mandates lengthy decompression and the environment usually guarantees that decompression will occur in a specific location. The wide variety of underwater caves has resulted in many different approaches to construction, from sealing a natural airspace formed by a dome in the ceiling using a tarpaulin (“habitarp”), upturned rubbish bins (“habibin”) to large custom-designed and manufactured enclosures. A volume of gas large enough to be useful has considerable buoyancy, which must be restrained either from above by the cave ceiling or from below using the floor or wall of the cave passage. A 1000 liter (264 gallon) IBC container often used for this purpose has a buoyancy of 1000 kg (2204 lbs), and many habitats are larger.
Unless it is constrained by the cave ceiling, the anchoring system must be very strong and reliable. Natural anchors such as rock projections and large boulders are better for conservation, but they may not be available in the required location, necessitating placement of artificial anchors in the cave wall or floor. These are very similar to anchors used in vertical dry caving, and can be screw anchors, expansion bolts or even glue-in types, typically made of stainless steel (or titanium, if money is no object!).
Air-powered drills are much less expensive than battery-powered underwater drills but can use a large amount of compressed air. When our group (Karst Underwater Research or KUR) placed a habitat 2 km/6562 ft from the entrance of a cave in 2013 (when no suitable battery-powered underwater drill was available), the large volume of bubbles released from the air drill we used to make the holes for the anchors percolated so much silt from the walls and ceiling that the water visibility was reduced to almost zero for about a third of the exit distance. Whatever method of fixing the habitat is chosen, it needs to be very secure, as the consequences of an anchor coming loose could be extremely severe.
The depth of the habitat may be a compromise between what is ideal for decompression and what is dictated by the location. Since the final decompression stop is the longest, the habitat is often targeted as close to 6 m/20 ft deep as possible. Some advanced projects, most notably the Wet Mules’ exploration of the Pearse Resurgence in New Zealand, have used multiple habitats at various depths because of the extreme maximum depth of more than 240 m/787 ft and cold water 6°C/43°F.
To maximize the air space, the habitat container needs to be as level as possible. In other words, the water level can be no lower than the highest point of any of the sides where gas can escape, and this consideration may be more important than installing it at the ideal depth. When a habitat is anchored from below, it is usually easiest to start a little deeper than the intended depth and then adjust to the correct depth before the container is completely filled with gas.
Our group typically uses polyester static caving rope (nylon lengthens about 5-10% on getting wet) with equalized double anchors at the bottom (double figure 8 or bowline on a bight) and ‘super Münter’ adjustable hitches at the top for easy adjustment of length. When the anchor points have been close to the bottom of the habitat, we have had a lot of success with appropriately-rated webbing ratchet straps.
The Use of Containers
Many factors will influence the choice of a container for a habitat, but they can be reduced to two primary ones: location and cost. Inflatable habitats—for example modified commercial lift bags—have the advantage that they can be rolled or folded up to fit through narrow parts of the cave. We have found that a large golf club case works as a streamlined container for an inflatable habitat that can be swum or towed by a DPV.
A rigid habitat, typically an industrial or occasionally purpose-built container, is much more cumbersome to move into a cave, and these are typically installed close to the cave entrance, which obviously has to be large enough for it to fit through. Experience has shown that any modifications to the container (e.g. rings or hooks for hanging equipment) are vastly easier to perform out of the water before the habitat is installed, especially if any kind of adhesive is required. A reliable valve near or at the highest point in the habitat is very helpful for removing gas when the habitat needs to be adjusted or removed but, with a little practice, gas can be siphoned out by two divers and a short length of garden hose.
Unless the cave floor is close to the bottom of the habitat, the occupants will need either a floor or seats to keep them out of the water. The size and positioning of seats is a compromise between comfort and ease of entry into the habitat.
The easiest and most inefficient option is for divers to use a conventional open-circuit, second stage regulator, with the cylinder being hung in the water below the habitat. Using a conventional diving rebreather may be difficult because of space limitations, prompting some home-made designs which are usually of the chest-mounted (or ‘laptop’) configuration. They can also be suspended at any convenient place in the airspace, because there is no hydrostatic counterlung loading.
The most efficient and comfortable option is for divers to breathe the habitat atmosphere itself, which immediately presents three new considerations: oxygen addition, carbon dioxide (CO2) removal, and gas monitoring. Let us look at each of these in turn.
The above-mentioned 1000 liter IBC container, large enough for two divers, positioned at 6 msw/20 fsw, and filled with the surface equivalent of 1280 liters of oxygen and 320 liters of nitrogen, would entail an oxygen fraction of 0.8 and a partial pressure of oxygen (PO2) of 1.28 ata. We can conservatively assume that a decompressing diver will have an average oxygen consumption of about 1 liter/minute, and therefore two decompressing divers would consume about 120 liters of oxygen per hour. After one hour, the oxygen fraction within the habitat would have dropped to 0.78 and the PO2 to 1.25 ata, assuming the resulting CO2 does not remain in the airspace. This simple calculation, which is supported by practical experience, shows that elaborate arrangements for maintaining habitat PO2 are unnecessary and can be accomplished by simply purging an oxygen second stage intermittently within the habitat (e.g. every 30 minutes or more).
There are only two ways of removing CO2 from an enclosed airspace: replacement by adding gas free of CO2, and chemically removing the CO2 from the atmosphere using a CO2 absorbent (scrubber). The first method is often used in hyperbaric chambers—which share many of the practical problems of underwater habitats—because it is safe and simple. Unfortunately for technical divers, it is too inefficient to be practical in most circumstances. Going back to our example above, our two divers will have exhaled about 96 liters of carbon dioxide in the first hour, assuming a typical respiratory quotient of 0.8, resulting in an ambient CO2 concentration of 6.5% (surface equivalent by volume). By this point, both divers would likely be feeling significant adverse effects.
If we assume that the CO2 in the habitat atmosphere should be maintained below the 0.5% surface equivalent value commonly used for rebreather scrubber testing, flushing of the habitat would have to be started after less than 5 minutes. The rate of continuous flushing to keep the CO2 in an enclosed pressurized airspace at a constant level is given by the following equation [3,4]:
where Qgas is the rate of gas ventilation, Pamb is the ambient pressure, VO2 is the total oxygen consumption of the divers, R is the respiratory quotient, F is a mixing factor (1 = ideal mixing) and PCO2 is the desired ambient partial pressure of carbon dioxide.
For our two divers, the habitat would have to be flushed at a rate of 512 liters per minute or 19.5 cu ft per minute (surface equivalent) to maintain the CO2 at a surface equivalent of 0.5%. Note that the amount of gas required is independent of the volume of the habitat. This is logistically unsustainable in most situations: a typical 80 cu ft (11 liter) aluminum cylinder would last less than 3 minutes. This shows how difficult it is to maintain low CO2 levels with flushing of the gas space. Even if the CO2 is allowed to rise to a surface equivalent of 2%, which would cause some breathlessness but might be tolerable, the same cylinder would still only last about 16 minutes.
For the Wakulla project in 1987, Bill Stone calculated a 32 cu.ft./min (906 liters/min) gas flow requirement for an exploration team in that habitat positioned at 60 ft/20 m depth . Two industrial Ingersoll-Rand surface compressors were easily able to meet this demand via a 400 foot long, ¾ inch internal diameter hose with manual shutoff valves and check valves fitted at both ends to prevent inadvertent venting of the habitat atmosphere when the compressors were not running. No direct measurement of habitat CO2 levels were made; the divers were able to purge the gas in the habitat whenever it seemed excessively ‘stuffy’.
The only other way to reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere is to remove it chemically, turning the habitat into a giant shared rebreather. This is relatively a simple engineering task, using a sealed 12V motorcycle radiator fan to blow habitat gas through a scrubber bed, ideally with some form of speed control to allow the flow rate through the absorbent to be controlled by the diver(s). It can be powered from portable battery packs (such as those used for dive lights or undersuit heating) or a cable from the surface. Such a device needs to be transported to the habitat inside an appropriate container or designed into a pressure-proof housing (see picture).
Monitoring Your Gas
When KUR started building habitat scrubbers about 10 years ago, we used a prototype CO2 monitor for a rebreather to help decide how fast to run the scrubber motor. The monitor, which used infrared absorption spectrometry to measure CO2, was power-hungry and would exhaust all of its battery capacity in a few hours if left on continuously, so we would only switch it on intermittently. To pass the time while it was warming up, we would attempt to guess what the reading would be, and after a few iterations we became surprisingly good at estimating the CO2 level subjectively by how ‘stuffy’ the habitat atmosphere felt. Switching on a habitat scrubber fan feels pleasantly like someone opening a window, but the insidious accumulation of CO2 when the scrubber is off is much harder to notice. As an aside, I believe there is some potential for research into whether divers can be trained to recognize increasing levels of inhaled carbon dioxide from scrubber breakthrough. Handheld CO2 meters are available, and we are currently evaluating some of these for use in our habitats. Many are not suitable for the environment or will not give accurate readings in the presence of 100% humidity.
Oxygen measurement is simple, as in any rebreather, and can easily be combined with the scrubber assembly so that the sensors sample the gas being circulated by the fan.
Ensuring Diver Safety
The limited space in most habitats often precludes the use of the divers’ main scuba system, in which case this must be removed when entering the habitat. When leaving for the surface (or a shallower habitat) this must either be redonned or a separate (often simple open-circuit) scuba used. These transitions present some hazards, especially if there is no solid floor beneath the air space with the potential for critical items to be dropped out of reach. A support diver is very valuable to assist a mission diver with entering and exiting the habitat and retrieving any items that are inadvertently released.
As mentioned above, the positive buoyancy of a habitat can easily exceed 1000 kg (10kN) so all anchors, ropes, and connectors such as carabiners and maillon rapides should be appropriately rated for the application. The consequences of a habitat breaking loose in an uncontrolled ascent could be very severe and even fatal.
One concern, especially if the habitat atmosphere has a significantly elevated PO2, is fire safety. With the bottom of the container open to the water, its atmosphere necessarily has 100% humidity, which has been shown experimentally to dramatically inhibit flame spread due to the latent heat of evaporation of water. While practical experience has been reassuring so far, the relative balance of fire-promoting conditions and humidity within a habitat has not yet been scientifically studied, so I would advise great caution with any potential ignition source, especially electrical switches, brushed motors (potential arcing), and dive lights (overheating).
The Wakulla 1987 project, pioneering in so many ways, introduced the use of habitat to surface communications with two phone lines, one of which was able to be used for long-distance calls, although the pushbutton phone used for the latter became unreliable after a time because of moisture ingress affecting the pushbuttons. Our group, like some others, has adopted single-wire earth-return telephones (also known as Michiephones) for communication with the surface. These are simple, robust, and require only a single wire to be installed to the habitat, although we sometimes use two-conductor military field phone wire with the conductors paralleled for redundancy. You can see them being used in this Alachua “habichat” video.
We have also used the combination of an LTE modem, power-over-ethernet switch, rugged ethernet cable, and a wi-fi access point in a pressure-proof housing to provide internet access within a habitat close to the entrance. While attractive, this option is not suitable for long-term installation and the effort of setting it up for each dive makes our dive teams generally prefer the single wire phone option. Other systems, such as two-wire intercoms for offices or door entry have also been used successfully. All these devices need to be able to function at elevated atmospheric pressure with 100% humidity.
Is There A Deco Habitat in Your Future?
We have already seen one version of the future: the Wakulla 2 project’s surface decompression chamber system with a transfer capsule (“bell”) to transport the divers under pressure from the water into a dry decompression chamber on the surface. Unfortunately very few sites have the geography, and even fewer divers the financial means, to support it.
Some explorers have started experimenting with small one-person collapsible habitats which with advances in materials technology can be made more compact and lighter. I foresee more use of purpose-designed enclosures, especially collapsible ones that can be deployed in multiple locations. Underwater rotary hammers are now available which, although expensive, allow rapid placement of anchors in hard limestone. I also anticipate more habitats deployed in open water, like Michael Lombardi’s system-see below.
For deep cave exploration, habitats offer safety, some very welcome mouthpiece-free time, a chance to eat and drink, and even entertainment. More importantly, they allow the diver to warm up and stay warm at a critical phase of the dive, promoting (presumably) better perfusion and faster off-gassing. For these extreme dives, habitats truly change the game.
See Companion article: Portable Habitats—New Technical Diving Capabilities are Well Within Reach by Michael Lombardi
 Blue Lake: the habitat.
 Lombardi M. Portable Habitats: New Technical Diving Capabilities are Well Within Reach. InDEPTH V 4.11
 Nuckols ML, Tucher WC, Sarich AJ. Life Support Systems Design: Diving and Hyperbaric Applications. Pearson Custom Publishing, Boston, USA, 1996.
 Gerth WA. Chamber Carbon Dioxide and Ventilation. NEDU TR 04-46. Navy Experimental Diving Unit, Panama City, FL, USA, 2004.
 Stone WC. The Wakulla Springs Project. U.S. Deep Caving Team. January 1st, 1989. ISBN-10: 0962178500. ISBN-13: 978-0962178504.
Andrew Pitkin learned to dive in 1992 in the cold murky waters of the United Kingdom and started cave and technical diving in 1994. His first exposure to exploration was in 1995 when he was one of a team of divers who were the first to reach the bottom of the Great Blue Hole of Belize at 408 fsw (123 msw). Subsequently he has been involved in numerous cave exploration projects in Belize, Mexico and Florida.
From 1996-2000 he was employed at the Royal Navy’s Institute of Naval Medicine, running a hyperbaric facility, treating decompression illness, participating in research into outcome after decompression illness, submarine escape and testing of new military underwater breathing systems. He is one of a handful of civilians to be trained by the Royal Navy as a diving medical officer.
He moved to Florida in 2007 and is currently on the faculty of the College of Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. With Karst Underwater Research he has participated in numerous underwater cave exploration and filming projects. Like many explorers, he spends much of his spare time developing and building innovative equipment for exploration purposes.
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Decompression Habitats Are Ascendent
Armed with reliable rebreathers, expedition-grade scooters, electric heating, helium mixes, high-powered dive computers, and those all-important P-valves, today’s cave explorers...