The Technology of Extreme Cave Diving

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If you thought mountaineers were the world's toughest explorers, you have to read the Failure Magazine interview with James Tabor about deep cave explorers, author of the new book, Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth. Tabor glosses the careers of American Bill Stone and Ukrainian Alexander Klimchouk and the caves that made them famous Cheve in southern Mexico and Krubera in the western Caucasus, respectively. 

It turns out that Stone is more than a brave guy with a high tolerance for dark, tight spaces. He's also an inventor is working with NASA on a possible robotic explorer for scooting around under the ice of Jupiter's moon Europa, which is considered one of the likeliest places to harbor extraterrestrial life in our solar system. He's also put his mind to work on technology for Earth. When he and his cohort reached the limits of traditional scuba gear in the late 80s, he hacked together his own "rebreather," a closed-circuit breathing system that allowed him to dramatically extend the time he could dive in the world's wet, partially flooded deep caves. 

Here's Tabor's description:

[. It took him ten years to develop one in his home laboratory, and the model that he invented is now being marketed by a company called Poseidon, which is headquartered in Sweden. The Poseidon Rebreather weighs about forty pounds fully charged and gives the diver eight to twelve hours of continuous time underwater. Stone remained underwater for twenty-four hours with a prototype, and the only problem he had was staying awake.

How does the rebreather work? It recycles the air that you exhale. That air has been mildly enriched with carbon dioxide and stripped of oxygen. By running the air through scrubbers that capture the CO2 and adding oxygen from a tank, the recycled air can be returned to breathable air. While a rebreather requires carrying a tank of oxygen, the use of your own exhalations reduces the volume of gas that you must carry.

If all this sounds like it might be delightful on the big screen, James Cameron agrees with you. He's working on a movie called Sanctum about extreme cave divers. And yes, of course it will be in 3D. In the meantime, check out Bill Stone's TED talk embedded above. 

Via Slashdot

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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