Underwater Exploration Timeline 1900s - 2000s University of Wisconsin Sea Grant
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 1900s to the 2000s:

The U.S. Navy accepts the Holland, built by John P. Holland of New Jersey, as its first submarine. While submerged, this boat is powered by an electric motor and while on the surface, by a gasoline engine. Holland is generally recognized as the "father of the modern submarine."

English physiologist J.S. Haldane composes a set of diving tables that establish a stage method of decompression, thereby providing a preventive solution for divers suffering the bends.

A Japanese, Ohgushi, develops a system that can operate as a scuba with an air supply cylinder carried on the back. The diver controls his air supply by triggering air flow into his mask with his teeth.

Another scuba is developed by a Frenchman named Yves Le Prieur. In this set, the diver carries a compressed air bottle on his chest and releases air into his face mask by opening a tap.

American biologist William Beebe and partner Otis Barton, an engineer and geologist, descend to a depth of 3,028 feet in their bathysphere, a round craft made of thick steel with several windows that is lowered by cable into the deep.

This depth record stands for 14 years. Beebe later wrote that his undersea adventures exposed him to "a world as strange as that of Mars."

Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan develop the first scuba incorporating an automatic demand valve to release air as the diver inhales. This is the scuba we still know today, a breakthrough that allows divers to stay underwater for extended periods and explore the ocean realm.

Cousteau also lived in one of the first underwater habitats -- a forerunner of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Aquarius Underwater Laboratory, one of our JASON destinations.

The United States launches the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear powered submarine. This vessel can stay underwater almost indefinitely. In 1960, the nuclear sub Triton travels around the globe, staying submerged all the way.

The first segment of Sea Hunt airs on television, starring Lloyd Bridges as Mike Hunt, an underwater adventurer. The series inspires thousands of people to take up scuba diving.

YMCA begins the first nationally organized course for scuba certification.

As accident rates for scuba divers climb, the first national training agencies are formed to train and certify divers: the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) is formed in 1960, and the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) in 1966.

Jacques Piccard, son of famous balloonist and adventurer August Piccard, and Don Walsh descend into the ocean to a depth of 35,797 feet -- that's almost seven miles deep!

They make the trip in the Trieste, a sturdy underwater vehicle the younger Piccard designed and built several years earlier. The divers discover fish and other deep-sea life at that tremendous depth.

Several experiments are conducted whereby people live in underwater habitats, leaving the habitat for exploration (using scuba equipment) and returning for sleeping, eating and relaxing. The habitats are supplied by compressed air from the surface.

In the first such experiment, Conshelf (Continental Shelf) One, Jacques Cousteau and his team spend seven days under 33 feet of water near Marseilles, France, in a habitat they name Diogenes.

In 1963, eight divers live in Conshelf Two under the Red Sea for a month. Other underwater habitats of this period: Sealab I (1964); Sealab II (1965); and Conshelf Three (1965), in which former astronaut Scott Carpenter and other divers spend a month at 190 feet off the coast of southern France.

PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, trains 3,226 divers in its first year of operation.

Pioneering marine scientist Sylvia Earle applies to participate in the Tektite project, a government-sponsored expedition off the Virgin Islands that enables teams of scientists to live for weeks at a time in an enclosed habitat on the ocean floor 50 feet below the surface.

She is not selected because, according to Earle, the sponsors are uncomfortable having men and women live together underwater. The result is Tektite II, an all-female research expedition led by Dr. Earle herself the next year.

Dr. Earle later becomes the first woman to serve as chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In her still-active career, she has logged more than 6,000 hours of diving, has led more than 50 expeditions, and has authored more than 90 scientific, technical and popular publications.

Important advances relating to scuba safety that began in the 1960s become widely implemented in the 1970s, including: adoption of certification cards to indicate a minimum level of training and as a requirement for tank refills; rental of scuba equipment; adoption of submersible pressure gauges; adoption of the buoyancy compensator and single hose regulators as essential pieces of diving equipment.

Sylvia Earle walked unassisted on the sea floor: at a record depth of 1,250 feet below the surface. She wore a special pressured suit, and was carried by a vessel down to the 1,250-foot depth off the island of Oahu.

At the bottom, she detached from the vessel and explored the depths for two and a half hours with only a communication line connecting her to the submersible, and nothing at all connecting her to the world above. She describes this adventure in her book Exploring the Deep Frontier.

Scientist, explorer and educator Dr. Robert Ballard applies optical fiber technology that allows specially equipped underwater craft to transmit video footage in real time to a ship at the surface.

A record 2,250-foot dive is made in a Duke Medical Center chamber. Stephen Porter, Len Whitlock and Erik Kramer live in the eight-foot-diameter spherical chamber for 43 days, breathing a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen and helium.

Using unmanned submersibles, Dr. Ballard and his team discover the remains of the famous luxury liner R.M.S. Titanic, 12,460 feet below the surface of the North Atlantic off the coast of Newfoundland. The next year they return to the site in a three man submarine to continue exploring and photographing the wreck.

The Womens Scuba Association (WSA) is founded in order to provide a networked association of women who work in the diving industry and a place where women divers can share their experiences and concerns. Today, the WSA website (www.WomenInScuba.com) features plenty of useful information, and profiles pioneering women underwater researchers, filmmakers, actresses, shipwreck divers and instructors.

An undersea laboratory called the Aquarius begins operating off Key Largo, Florida. Devoted to scientific research, the Aquarius resembles an underwater apartment and lab that can accommodate six-person teams during 10-day missions. Scientists live, eat and sleep in the structure, and venture out into the water for six to nine hours of "fieldwork" each day. During its first deployment in the Florida Keys from 1993-1996, the Aquarius helps revolutionize the study of coral reefs.

The 50th anniversary of the invention of modern scuba diving is celebrated around the world. PADI, the largest of the national training agencies, certifies 515,000 new divers worldwide.

The Aquarius is upgraded and is back at work again in the Florida Keys, with missions already planned through the year 2000. One of these missions involves working with the JASON Project to bring interactive educational experiences about the undersea world to teachers and students around the globe.

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Le Prieur
Academy of
The first nuclear
USS Nautilus
above and
[ US Navy ]

The original
[ US Navy ]
Marine scientist
Sylvia Earle
In 1979,
Sylvia Earle
on the sea
floor: at a
record depth
of 1,250 feet

Top: interior of Aquarius. Bottom: Aquanauts "dine" by the soft blue light that filters down to the Aquarius habitat, 50 feet down.