Under The Sea: The Next Frontier For Human Civilization?

923 words | 4 page(s)

We see it in innumerable science fiction films – underwater cities, completely self-sufficient, existing independently from civilization on the mainland – but is habitation under the sea a plausible reality or just a mere conjecture? Research on the prospects of underwater habitation has been underway for over a decade. Indeed, at one time, there were over twelve underwater bunker-like habitats existing throughout the world. Today, only three remain, all situated in the Florida Keys. Yet, scientists seem to be in agreement that the technology needed to sustain a group of about one hundred individuals safely in underwater exists. Famed Deep-Sea-expert and Oceanographer Ian Koblick makes clear, “If you had the money and the need, you could do it today.” (Nuwar) But what exactly are the benefits of creating an underwater habit for human beings? Humans were biologically and evolutionarily always meant to be land creatures – how would the change of environment affect them? Furthermore, what obstacles are in the way of making underwater homes a reality?

The benefits to having a sustainable underwater habitation for human life are plentiful but contingent on many factors. Namely, since the oceans are so vast and can be near vital energy deposits, underwater habitats can easily alleviate the growing overpopulation problem on the mainland. Underwater habitats can function entirely off of the natural sustainable and renewable sources of energy present on the seabed– namely the hydrothermal vents, whose heat can be captured and used directly, or whose water-flow can be used for electricity. Underwater bunkers can also be used as an alternative to “underground” bunkers to protect against radiation, chemicals, or air pollution caused by natural or manmade disasters. (Miller & Koblick)

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However, underwater habitation for a temporary amount of time is far different from underwater living. Human beings have evolved to live and conduct life within a certain atmospheric pressure. Living 1500 feet underwater increases the sea-level pressure by a factor of 2.5. This results in minor noticeable differences when living in sealed pressurized chambers underwater – though their long-term effects have never been successfully documented. Some researchers imply that long-term exposure to this pressure difference might upset the naturally functioning of the inner-ear, which may eventually effect the way people comport themselves in a regular atmospheric pressure. Deep-sea inhabitants have further reported that their sense of taste feels mitigated when under the sea – and state that they poured hot sauce all over their food to enhance the taste.

(Lam) Researcher Mark Patterson believes this has something to do with the high density of air in the underwater habitat, which precludes the distribution of food smells (as smell is largely tied with taste). Bringing food from the surface to the underwater habitats is also a formidable task – as lots of food has to be frozen for the delivery journey – as the pressure changes usually collapse various foodstuffs. (Seedhouse) This means that underwater communities would have to grow to be completely independent from the mainland or the surface for support. Meat, other than fish and crustaceans, would no longer be a staple of human diet, and the amount of plant-life that can be grown in chambers underwater is limited due to the lighting difference (and this doesn’t even take depth into account). Most vegetation would likely have to be grown on the surface and channeled downward, and that of course, then thwarts the idea of underwater communities being self-sustainable if the earth’s atmosphere were to be polluted with dust or saturated with radiation.

On December 11th, 2014, a pair of biologists broke the world record for the longest stay underwater, at Jules Underwater Lounge, one of the three bunkers in the Florida Keys. They stayed a total of 10 weeks. Among the many other difficulties they reported, were vitamin D deficiencies, due to a lack of sun exposure. A large part of living in underwater habitats will require diving (for food gathering, travel, or repairs). This, then, provides for a slew of other considerations. The biologists reported times, especially when scuba-diving, having difficulty thinking straight. This was likely the result of something known as nitrogen narcosis, when the human body soaks up inert gases after long-exposure-times underwater. (MacInnis)

But the above affects are only experienced by individuals who have spent upwards of 10 weeks living underwater. What about permanent underwater living? As of today, though the technology is in place to build the structures and “atmosphere” needed to thrive underwater, the human body is something that cannot be altered so quickly to accept its new environment. The high-density air concentration (and higher amounts of oxygen taken in per breath) would eventually prove to adversely affect a human’s circulation system, causing something known as pulmonary toxicity. Given this, it is unlikely that the deep sea (especially long-term living in the deep sea that does not filter its man-made atmosphere with the atmosphere on the surface) is a viable choice for habitation in the near future.

  • Csuchico.edu,. ‘Life At The Bottom Of The Sea – Chico Statements – CSU, Chico’. N.p., 2012. Web. 13 Jan. 2015.
  • Education.nationalgeographic.com,. ‘Geothermal Energy’. N.p., 2015. Web. 13 Jan. 2015.
  • Lam, Brian. ‘What Happens To A Human Who Spends A Month Under The Sea?’. Popular Science 2014. Web. 13 Jan. 2015.
  • MacInnis, Joseph. ‘The Medical And Human Performance Problems Of Living Under The Sea’. Canadian Medical Association Journal 95.5 (1966): 191. Web. 13 Jan. 2015.
  • Miller, James W, and Ian G Koblick. Living And Working In The Sea. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1984. Print.
  • Nuwar, Rachel. ‘Will We Ever… Live In Underwater Cities?’. BBC. N.p., 2013. Web. 13 Jan. 2015.
  • Seedhouse, Erik. Ocean Outpost. New York: Springer, 2011. Print.

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