Relevant notes and citations provided to TED by Jill Heinerth.
That dark foreboding shot of me wearing a Sentinel Rebreather is actually a selfie, shot underwater during a long decompression hang.
The famous "Grim Reaper" signs were placed in the entrances of underwater caves to try to dissuade untrained divers from entering the dangerous environments. The sign opens with, "Prevent Your Death. Go No Further. Divers Have Died Here." and includes warnings that many experienced instructors have been lured to their deaths within underwater caves. The program was successful in lowering the numbers of fatalities of uncertified cave divers.
This video sequence was shot primarily on solo dives using a tripod. Solo diving adds some risk in the sense that there is no assistance in the event of an emergency. However, in some cases, as in spots with very tight restrictions, cave divers argue that solo diving is preferred since getting stuck or being unable to reach a partner is a very real possibility.
The tanks you see in the foreground left of the photo are called "stage bottles." When cave divers plan lengthy penetrations into the cave, they leave these tanks as emergency stockpiles of gas or as supplies that help them leap frog further into the environment.
The video footage shows my favorite cave: Dan's Cave in Abaco. Thanks to efforts by cave explorer Brian Kakuk and others, this region has now been dedicated as a national park in the Bahamian Park System. This cave was also documented in National Geographic and on PBS NOVA. I served as associate producer, explorer and expedition photographer on the film.
The beautiful speleothems of calcite you see in this shot are aptly called "Frozen Rain."
My dive partner Dr. Kenny Broad is driving a Diver Propulsion Vehicle (DPV) that pulls a diver through the water with a small propeller and a very large battery.
The Ice Island Project was covered in National Geographic Magazine.
We intercepted the B-15 iceberg in the Ross Sea after a journey of 12 days from New Zealand. At the time, the iceberg was the largest moving object on our planet. We made the first cave dives inside icebergs using rebreather diving technology.
This is a shot of my diving partner exiting the iceberg that we called Ice Island Cave #4. We had just experienced a rather frightening dive. The entry we had used calved away while we were inside. The team awaiting our return had thought that we had been killed in the process. When we surfaced from our dive, they were ecstatic to see us alive and well.
This shot is from a NOAA Project from Bermuda. Sitting on the transom of the Pourquois Pas, I am wearing a rebreather, and sufficient breathing gases to get me to safety in the event that the rebreather device ever fails. Each tank contains a different mix of helium, nitrogen and oxygen to provide the perfect life support for a variety of depths. Together with Dr. Tom Iliffe from Texas A & M University at Galveston, we dropped to over 450 feet on this dive to collect biological samples and document the environment with video and still photography.
The official NOAA site for the project is here.
Dr. Tom Iliffe is the guru of cave biology and has dived more caves on earth than anyone I know. His site, cavebiology.com, is really comprehensive.
Bermuda and the Bahamas are the real biological hot spots for underwater cave adapted animals. Read more about research in Bahamian Caves here.
Read the story about the NOAA Bermuda Deep Caves Project here.
I also get to work with paleontologists and archaeologists. In places like Mexico, in the Bahamas and even in Cuba, we're looking at cultural remains and also human remains in caves, and they tell us a lot about some of the earliest inhabitants of these regions.
The skull held by Brian Kakuk was retrieved for paleontologist Michael Pateman. Many people ask about the sloped, elongated forehead. The skull is of a Lucayan Indian. Cultural practices included a practice where boards were strapped on a baby's skull to flatten and elongate the forehead. Similar to Mayan practices, it was believed this was a sign of beauty and perhaps a sign of high social stature.
This project is highlighted in this National geographic post that includes radio posts, photos and video content.
The United States Deep Caving Team site shows the 3D mapping and life support technology.
This site offers video clips of diving beneath the Sonny’s BBQ Restaurant on the right side of the page.
Pretty remarkable, and what that taught me was that everything we do on the surface of our earth will be returned to us to drink. Our water planet is not just rivers, lakes and oceans -- it's this vast network of groundwater that knits us all together. It's a shared resource from which we all drink. And when we can understand our human connections with our groundwater and all of our water resources on this planet, then we'll be working on the problem that's probably the most important issue of this century.