SO482A.  Historic Shipwrecks: Science, History, and Engineering



About the Presenter:

Dr. Bob Mayer is a former Department Chair and a Professor in the USNA's Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering Department, Division of Engineering & Weapons.  He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Delaware.  Before joining the faculty at USNA, served in the Civil Engineer Corps of the U.S. Navy (1971-1978), and in the U.S. Naval Reserve (1978-1989). While on active duty, he was Resident Officer in Charge of Construction for the Navy's East Coast Air Combat Maneuvering Range that involved installation of four offshore towers. Also, as Assistant Officer in Charge of Underwater Construction Team One, he was involved in underwater cable repairs and installations, fuel terminal moorings and pipeline installations, and numerous underwater facility inspections. He is a qualified Navy Ship Salvage Diving Officer.  Dr. Mayer's research interests relate to the application of statistics, operations research and risk analysis methods to the management, engineering design, and construction of ocean engineering systems. His applied research  has been multi-faceted dealing with alternative energy sources, coastal wetlands, coral reefs, navigation channel design and maintenance, pipeline installations, underwater inspection strategies, waste remediation, and more.


Lesson Objectives:


This lecture addresses the use of diving technology in the exploration and discovery of the ocean realm.  Much of the material is introduced from NOAA’s “Ocean Explorer” Web site with applicable links provided to facilitate review.  A brief overview of Navy Diving resources and missions is also provided.  Be prepared to reflect on your learning.


Due to limits of our physiology, most of the oceanic world has remained unexplored. To our fragile bodies, the underwater realm is as alien and hostile as outer space. Despite these difficulties, the human spirit of exploration has driven us to figure out how to get into the water, observe its unknown expanses, and uncover the mysteries of the deep… In this section, some of the technical advances in diving [are highlighted] and some of the problems [to overcome are discussed].

Preparing for a dive in 1935.
Source:  NOAA/OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP).



A ‘self-contained underwater breathing apparatus’, or SCUBA for short, is the most extensively-used technology for breathing underwater by recreational divers throughout the world, and in various forms is also widely used to perform underwater work for military, scientific and commercial purposes.  Recall the use of scuba in the search and recovery of TWA Flt 800. Be sure to review the advantages and disadvantages of this technology on the following Web site:

Scuba diving allows divers greater freedom of movement underwater. One disadvantage is that there is no communication means between the diver and the surface.
Source:  NOAA

Technical Diving

Technical diving is a term used on the NOAA Web site to describe diving technologies developed to overcome the principal limitations of scuba diving, i.e., immersion-time and depth  constraints.  By definition it encompasses mixed-gas, surface-supplied and saturation diving.  Once again, as you review the details of each form, reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of the different technologies.  Both mixed-gas and surface-supplied diving are addressed on the following Web page:

A technician checks a working diver's "umbilical" which carries breathing gas and communication lines.
Source:  NOAA

In the Florida Keys off Key Largo, NOAA maintains an undersea laboratory known as Aquarius.  The laboratory is situated 20 meters deep and equipped with life support systems that allow scientist to live and work underwater for extended periods of time.  Provided with continuous supplies of life’s necessities (air, food and water), the scientists can stay at depth to conduct their studies rather than returning to the surface on a daily or more frequent basis.   

Essentially the Aquarius is a ‘saturation system’ that allows for the tissues of its inhabitants to become ‘saturated’ with the breathing gas for the depth (or pressure) at which they are situated.  In general, the longer a diver remains at a given depth, the longer is the decompression time, i.e., the time required to ascend to the surface.  However, once tissues are saturated, the required decompression time no longer increases, i.e., the maximum penalty is paid.  Thus, with a saturation system, not only does a diver get to remain in the realm of study but the total ‘transport time’ between depth and the surface is significantly reduced.  An additional discussion of saturation diving (as well as the Aquarius system) can be found on following Web page:

The Aquarius habitat on dry land.
Source:  NOAA

Also, take a moment to gain a virtual tour of the Aquarius habitat at:

Link is now broken

Source:  NOAA


Observation Tools

It has only been within the last 50 years that technology has advanced to the point that we have begun to examine the ocean in a systematic, scientific, and, most importantly, noninvasive way… This brief section of the Web site highlights technologies that collect data from and about the ocean, some of which have been discussed in previous lessons.

Satellites help monitor the earth's ocean.

Image:  NOAA


Navy Diving

Finally, before concluding this lesson, we’ve prepared an overview of Navy diving resources and equipments.  To learn more about the Navy’s diving potential and its various missions, be sure to review the PDF file “U.S. Navy Diving – An Overview” .




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USNA Blackboard for quiz and discussion forum.

Last revision 2/8/2011