I swear, I don’t want to be a nay-saying science crankypants. I want to dream big and have my own submarine and frolic on the Deep Sea News private island hideout. I don’t want to be the lab-coated finger-shaking wench that crushes new ideas before they are even born. But sometimes a girl just needs to be skeptical, you know? Especially when that girl has spent a fair amount of time doing science on the open sea, and the idea that is giving her a serious case of the crankypants is pretty much the coolest looking vessel EVER.
Remember that USS Enterprise-esque ocean research vessel we first ran across back in 2005? Yes, the one that was originally slated to hit the open waters in 2008 or 2009. After catching heat for its lofty ambitions for the last 12 years, the SeaOrbiter is finally set to begin construction later this year. The ship is slated to measure 170 feet (51 meters) tall, but to stabilize the vessel over half of the vehicle would stay below the surface, providing all sorts of collection systems and useful tools. Not only does it look like something out of Minority Report, but the SeaOrbiter is 100% sustainable. The ship’s power is set to come from solar, wind and wave power with biofuel in case nature doesn’t cooperate — when the vessel isn’t adrift via ocean currents. Funding has been obtained for the $52.7 million undertaking, which will produce an endless amount of data on global warming and marine biology around the globe.
I especially like the friendly humpback whale checking out SeaOrbiter in the rendering. Nice touch. There’s lots more lovely and fantastical renderings here.
Now, according to the SeaOrbiter’s rather hard to read website, the 93 foot (31 meter) section of SeaOrbiter that is underwater is meant for observation of sea life. They say:
Although there currently exists a wide spectrum of traditional ocean research capabilities including research vessels, automatic buoys, satellites and private expeditions, Seaorbiter will not replace them but will work to extend and enhance these capabilties by providing a manned observation platform capable of missions lasting several months.
Specifically, this can be accomplished by Seaorbiter compared to conventional research vessels by its unique parameters related to its operational concept and design:
- Lengthening the time of measurement and observation : by drifting in the water body, SeaOrbiter eliminates much of the constraints related to ship operating (fuel, time, working hours, overboard, divers or submarines operations) and allows scientists:
- Allowing unprecedented and uninterrupted access to the undersea realm by a crew of 6 in a pressurized environment with open access to the undersea realm…
- Utilize sensors located along SeaOrbiter’s hull from 30 m below the surface to 20 m above the surface to capture the process which occurs in the area surrounding the water/air interface notably the green house gas exchange.
- Extending the research area to the underwater world: the hyperbaric laboratory allows scientists to engage themselves in saturation diving, a field that eliminates much of the time and depth of dive constraints, and allow them to dive at ambient pressure and relative depth as much as they wish to:
- Perform continuous observations of open water
- Carry out measures of biodiversity or collection of physico-chemical data through specific devices placed onto the underwater stabilizing disc at – 12 m
- Proactive and permanent observation through large underwater observation platform, 24 hours a day and over long periods by operators on board.
- Avoidance of acoustic interferences due to refine immersion in the water column
This brings me to the final puzzlement of the SeaObserver – how will it be resupplied? It cannot dock, since most ports are not 30 meters/90 feet deep. For example, San Diego Bay, a major military port that houses aircraft carriers and other large vessels, is dredged to maximum depth of 13 meters/42 feet. SeaOrbiter cannot be resupplied at sea, since it has no deck to put the supplies on, or crane with which to move them. How on earth will it actually function? There is no explanation on the website that I could find, though admittedly I found it hard to understand. Maybe there’s more on the French language part?