Monday, 10 September 2007
Somewhere .... Beyond the lake -- Sidebar written for Star but not used
Artist's conception of Ventbase Alpha - Ken Brown Mondolithic
Side Bar # 2
The pressures of living in a futuristic condo
Living underwater, under pressure, can hurt. According to Phil Nuyyten, the owner of Vancouver based Nuytco Research Ltd. (and the publisher of Diver Magazine) the secret to living below the surface is to make sure that the air pressure inside a sunken condo is always at “one atmosphere”, the same ambient air pressure that you experience standing on land in Toronto.
“ We can’t go mountain climbing without clothes and we can't go in the ocean without breathable air. We – mankind – are designed to live in a primordial swamp and we can’t stray too far from that narrow band, be it up or down,” explained Phil Nuytten. “ If the human body is breathing air and exposed to pressures beyond one atmosphere there are major physiological changes in the body. For example at depth pressure forces nitrogen out of your blood stream and saturates the body’s tissues.”
Before returning to the surface a person has to “decompress” to allow that nitrogen to reenter the blood stream. Without doing this, the nitrogen will expand inside the body causing a very painful, and often fatal condition known as the “bends” – decompression sickness.
“Of course, you can’t decompress every time you leave the habitat, it just isn’t practical – who has the time. (To overcome this) the air inside the building has to be at the same pressure as on land,” continued Nuytten. If the building actually begins above the water and builds down to lakebed, surface air is continually pumped to the bottom of the building to maintain that surface pressure at all floor levels avoiding potential health problems.
“ If there is no direct link to the surface, that is a different matter. You have to generate breathable air (at one atmosphere), you have power requirements and you have to be able to get people in and out with relative ease,” he said. “The science is already there but at what price? We have been talking about the big “move” underwater for years. But, the costs are high.”
Nuytten, should know. His company is a world leader in the development and operation of undersea technology. Nuytco designs, builds and operates one atmosphere diving suits, submersibles and remotely operated vehicles. Nuytco has proposed Vent-based Alpha, a self-sustaining underwater habitat and mining colony that will one day be placed 2,000 metres underwater near fissures in the Earth’s crust on the floor of the North Pacific Ocean.
“Essentially, it will be like taking a cruise ship with several hundred people and parking it at the bottom of the ocean,” Nuytten likes to say. “After three or four generations, inhabitants will ask, are there really people who live on the surface?”