We humans are remarkable and our dreams become a reality soon after an inventor puts their thinking caps on. We have taught ourselves to fly like birds, climb like monkeys and dig like moles. Why not swim like a fish?
Scuba diving does allow us to breathe underwater, but only at depths a fraction the depth of the sea. Our inability to conquer the “bends” or decompression sickness means that diving below 70 meters is still astronomically dangerous and only a handful of experts and highly trained individuals have reached the deeper depths. Super deep diving is so dangerous that more people have walked on the moon than have descended past the 240m mark. Considering that the deepest part of the ocean is 11,030 meters I would say that the record set last year by Ahmed Gamal Gabr of 332.35 meters (amazing, don’t get me wrong) is just a drop in the ocean.
How can we get deeper? Well, an amazing American inventor believes that the answer to this problem is liquid oxygen. Arnold Lande, a retired heart and lung surgeon, has patented a suit that will allow humans to breathe “liquid air”. This is a liquid that has been highly enriched with oxygen molecules and once we overcome the gag reflex Lande says that our lungs are more than capable of taking oxygen from a solution. Once the oxygenated liquid is inside your lungs it would feel just like breathing normal air.
Crazy isn’t it!
Nitrox eat your heart out!
So how does it work? Lande’s brain child is a scuba unit that would allow the diver to inhale highly-oxygenated perfluorocarbons (PFC’s), which is a type of liquid that can dissolve enormous quantities of gas. This liquid would be contained within a helmet that replaces all the air in the nose, lungs and ear cavities.
The waste gas CO2, which is normally exhaled in the out breath, would be removed by attaching a mechanical gill to the femoral vein in the leg and thus scrubbed from our system.
This remarkable piece of tech would eliminate the worry of decompression sickness or the “the bends”, which is the often fatal condition of dissolved nitrogen in the blood under pressure coming out of solution upon our resurfacing. It has the potential to make much deeper water accessible, which is so exciting!
I know, it still sounds like science fiction – but it’s not. Liquid ventilation is already used by a handful of cutting edge hospitals for highly premature babies. Infants born before 28 weeks often have lungs that are not fully developed, and are unable to adjust from the liquid environment of the womb to breathing gaseous air. Their alveoli (the final branching inside the lungs which are the final stage in gas transfer to the blood) lack vital surfactants which stop the tiny cavities from sticking together when we exhale. Breathing this liquid increases their chance of survival from 5% to a whopping 60%. If a baby the size of your palm can do it, then surely so can we.
Perhaps the most appealing potential of this method of diving is the lack of decompression time needed. Ahmed Gamal Gabr took just 12 minutes to get to his record depth, but a huge 15 hours to come up. This is due to the extremely high concentrations of normally inert gasses such as nitrogen. He had to come up this slowly or he would have simply fizzed up, and his blood would have filled with dangerous nitrogen bubbles that would have surely killed him. If he had used the liquid he could have come up in seconds. Test have been carried out on animals, taking them down to 1000ft and then decompressing them in 0.5 seconds. No signs of decompression sickness were reported. This is because high concentrations of gasses are not needed – the liquid can simply be infused with the exact amount of oxygen needed for the dive.
No Oxygen toxicity.
Sign me up!
There has to be a down side right? The only one reported has been from navy seals who experienced stress fractures on their rib cages due to the liquid being heavy to breathe. This was overcome by Lande using medical armour for the diaphragm – strengthening it to make the liquid easier to breathe.
This may all sound a little extreme, but the potential gains are huge. Test subjects are needed and risks are bound to reveal themselves, but we must remember that humans have surpassed many previously thought unsurmountable obstacles. We have climbed the highest mountains, we have been into space – surely it is time for the deepest depths to be explored by man face to face.
Alexandra owns and works at www.scuba-monkey.com.
If/when this form of diving becomes a reality, are you up for it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.