Floating lab



photo credit: SeaOrbiter/ Jacques Rougerie 

Despite covering more than 70% of our planet’s surface, we know surprisingly little about Earth’s oceans. With more than 95% of the world’s underwater realm unexplored, scientists know more about the surface of the Moon and Mars than the bottom of the ocean. Due to intense pressures and poor visibility, the deep ocean is an extremely challenging place to study. But that could be set to change in the not too distant future, thanks to a pioneering architect’s ambitious project which will see a $50 million floating laboratory take to the seas.

SeaOrbiter, the futuristic ship that’s been hailed the Starship Enterprise for the water, is the brainchild of French architect Jacques Rougerie. While he has a history of making crazy dreams become a reality, this is by far his boldest project to date.

The craft is still only on the drawing board at the moment, but thanks to crowdfunding efforts through KissKissBankBank, Rougerie and his colleagues have secured $475,000which will allow them to initiate construction towards the end of the year. If funding continues, some of which has been provided by the French government, then the team is hopeful that it could be completed in 2016.

Much like an International Space Station (ISS) for the sea, the 58-meter (190-foot) tall vessel will advance basic science and improve technology. While drifting unobtrusively across the ocean, the laboratory will continuously analyze a myriad of physical, chemical and environmental parameters to give us new insight into the ecosystem of the open ocean.

SeaOrbiter/ Jacques Rougerie

Its underwater hangar will be home to a series of underwater exploration devices and vehicles that are able to explore depths of up to 6,000 meters (20,000 feet). The hope is that these devices will yield a treasure trove of information, such as previously unknown submarine mountains, new life forms and microscopic organisms that could be used to treat diseases. Marine biologists already discover around 2,000 new species living in our oceans each year, but SeaOrbiter wants to see this number become even higher. The ship will be equipped with a wet lab so that scientists can both conduct experiments and store specimens before they are transported to land-based stations.

Like the ISS, SeaOrbiter will be manned round-the-clock. Between 18 and 22 crew members will make SeaOrbiter their home at any period and will take part in prolonged missions. Divers living at normal atmospheric pressure can explore the first 50 meters of the ocean, but crew members living in a special pressurized zone can explore depths of up to 100 meters for extended periods of time. This deck will also allow physiological studies, such as examining the movement of gas bubbles throughout the body, which could improve diving technology.

SeaOrbiter/ Jacques Rougerie

Although construction of this futuristic vessel has yet to begin, the SeaOrbiter team already has even bigger plans for the future. They hope to eventually create a whole fleet of ships so that a craft can be sailed in every ocean. Who knows when, or realistically if, this will happen, but it’s an exciting prospect to say the least.

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