Scuba Diving

The diving equipment developed by Charles and John Deane, Augustus Siebe, and other inventors gave man the ability to remain and work underwater for extended periods, but movement was greatly limited by the requirement for surface-supplied air. Inventors searched for methods to increase the diver's movement

without increasing the hazards. The best solution was to provide the diver with a portable, self-contained air supply. For many years the self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (scuba) was only a theoretical possibility. Early attempts to supply self-contained compressed air to divers were not successful due to the limitations of air pumps and containers to compress and store air at sufficiently high pressure. Scuba development took place gradually, however, evolving into three basic types:

Open-circuit scuba (where the exhaust is vented directly to the surrounding water),

Closed-circuit scuba (where the oxygen is filtered and recirculated), and

■ Semiclosed-circuit scuba (which combines features of the open- and closed-circuit types).

1-3.1 Open-Circuit Scuba. In the open-circuit apparatus, air is inhaled from a supply cylinder and the exhaust is vented directly to the surrounding water.

1-3.1.1 Rouquayrol's Demand Regulator. The first and highly necessary component of an open-circuit apparatus was a demand regulator. Designed early in 1866 and patented by Benoist Rouquayrol, the regulator adjusted the flow of air from the tank to meet the diver's breathing and pressure requirements. However, because cylinders strong enough to contain air at high pressure could not be built at the time, Rouquayrol adapted his regulator to surface-supplied diving equipment and the technology turned toward closed-circuit designs. The application of Rouquayrol's concept of a demand regulator to a successful open-circuit scuba was to wait more than 60 years.

1-3.1.2 LePrieur's Open-Circuit Scuba Design. The thread of open-circuit development was picked up in 1933. Commander LePrieur, a French naval officer, constructed an open-circuit scuba using a tank of compressed air. However, LePrieur did not include a demand regulator in his design and, the diver's main effort was diverted to the constant manual control of his air supply. The lack of a demand regulator, coupled with extremely short endurance, severely limited the practical use of LePrieur's apparatus.

1-3.1.3 Cousteau and Gagnan's Aqua-Lung. At the same time that actual combat operations were being carried out with closed-circuit apparatus, two Frenchmen achieved a significant breakthrough in open-circuit scuba design. Working in a small Mediterranean village, under the difficult and restrictive conditions of German-occupied France, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnan combined an improved demand regulator with high-pressure air tanks to create the first truly efficient and safe open-circuit scuba, known as the Aqua-Lung. Cousteau and his companions brought the Aqua-Lung to a high state of development as they explored and photographed wrecks, developing new diving techniques and testing their equipment.

The Aqua-Lung was the culmination of hundreds of years of progress, blending the work of Rouquayol, LePrieur, and Fleuss, a pioneer in closed-circuit scuba development. Cousteau used his gear successfully to 180 fsw without significant difficulty and with the end of the war the Aqua-Lung quickly became a commercial success. Today the Aqua-Lung is the most widely used diving equipment, opening the underwater world to anyone with suitable training and the fundamental physical abilities.

1-3.1.4 Impact of Scuba on Diving. The underwater freedom brought about by the development of scuba led to a rapid growth of interest in diving. Sport diving has become very popular, but science and commerce have also benefited. Biologists, geologists and archaeologists have all gone underwater, seeking new clues to the origins and behavior of the earth, man and civilization as a whole. An entire industry has grown around commercial diving, with the major portion of activity in offshore petroleum production.

After World War II, the art and science of diving progressed rapidly, with emphasis placed on improving existing diving techniques, creating new methods, and developing the equipment required to serve these methods. A complete generation of new and sophisticated equipment took form, with substantial improvements being made in both open and closed-circuit apparatus. However, the most significant aspect of this technological expansion has been the closely linked development of saturation diving techniques and deep diving systems.

1-3.2 Closed-Circuit Scuba. The basic closed-circuit system, or oxygen rebreather, uses a cylinder of 100 percent oxygen that supplies a breathing bag. The oxygen used by the diver is recirculated in the apparatus, passing through a chemical filter that removes carbon dioxide. Oxygen is added from the tank to replace that consumed in breathing. For special warfare operations, the closed-circuit system has a major advantage over the open-circuit type: it does not produce a telltale trail of bubbles on the surface.

1-3.2.1 Fleuss' Closed-Circuit Scuba. Henry A. Fleuss developed the first commercially practical closed-circuit scuba between 1876 and 1878 (Figure 1-9). The Fleuss device consisted of a watertight rubber face mask and a breathing bag connected to a copper tank of 100 percent oxygen charged to 450 psi. By using oxygen instead of compressed air as the breathing medium, Fleuss eliminated the need for high-strength tanks. In early models of this apparatus, the diver controlled the makeup feed of fresh oxygen with a hand valve.

Fleuss successfully tested his apparatus in 1879. In the first test, he remained in a tank of water for about an hour. In the second test, he walked along a creek bed at a depth of 18 feet. During the second test, Fleuss turned off his oxygen feed to see what would happen. He was soon unconscious, and suffered gas embolism as his tenders pulled him to the surface. A few weeks after his recovery, Fleuss made arrangements to put his recirculating design into commercial production.

In 1880, the Fleuss scuba figured prominently in a highly publicized achievement by an English diver, Alexander Lambert. A tunnel under the Severn River flooded and Lambert, wearing a Fleuss apparatus, walked 1,000 feet along the tunnel, in complete darkness, to close several crucial valves.

1-3.2.2 Modern Closed-Circuit Systems. As development of the closed-circuit design continued, the Fleuss equipment was improved by adding a demand regulator and tanks capable of holding oxygen at more than 2,000 psi. By World War I, the Fleuss scuba (with modifications) was the basis for submarine escape equipment used in the Royal Navy. In World War II, closed-circuit units were widely used for combat diving operations (see paragraph 1-3.5.2).

Some modern closed-circuit systems employ a mixed gas for breathing and electronically senses and controls oxygen concentration. This type of apparatus retains the bubble-free characteristics of 100-percent oxygen recirculators while significantly improving depth capability.

1-3.3 Hazards of Using Oxygen in Scuba. Fleuss had been unaware of the serious problem of oxygen toxicity caused by breathing 100 percent oxygen under pressure. Oxygen toxicity apparently was not encountered when he used his apparatus in early shallow water experiments. The danger of oxygen poisoning had actually been discovered prior to 1878 by Paul Bert, the physiologist who first proposed controlled decompression as a way to avoid the bends. In laboratory experiments with animals, Bert demonstrated that breathing oxygen under pressure could lead to convulsions and death (central nervous system oxygen toxicity).

Figure 1-9. Fleuss Apparatus.

In 1899, J. Lorrain Smith found that breathing oxygen over prolonged periods of time, even at pressures not sufficient to cause convulsions, could lead to pulmonary oxygen toxicity, a serious lung irritation. The results of these experiments, however, were not widely publicized. For many years, working divers were unaware of the dangers of oxygen poisoning.

The true seriousness of the problem was not apparent until large numbers of combat swimmers were being trained in the early years of World War II. After a number of oxygen toxicity accidents, the British established an operational depth limit of 33 fsw. Additional research on oxygen toxicity continued in the U.S. Navy after the war and resulted in the setting of a normal working limit of 25 fsw for 75 minutes for the Emerson oxygen rebreather. A maximum emergency depth/time limit of 40 fsw for 10 minutes was also allowed.

These limits eventually proved operationally restrictive, and prompted the Navy Experimental Diving Unit to reexamine the entire problem of oxygen toxicity in the mid-1980s. As a result of this work, more liberal and flexible limits were adopted for U.S. Navy use.

1-3.4 Semiclosed-Circuit Scuba. The semiclosed-circuit scuba combines features of the open and closed-circuit systems. Using a mixture of gases for breathing, the apparatus recycles the gas through a carbon dioxide removal canister and continually adds a small amount of oxygen-rich mixed gas to the system from a supply cylinder. The supply gas flow is preset to satisfy the body's oxygen demand; an equal amount of the recirculating mixed-gas stream is continually exhausted to the water. Because the quantity of makeup gas is constant regardless of depth, the semiclosed-circuit scuba provides significantly greater endurance than open-circuit systems in deep diving.

1-3.4.1 Lambertsen's Mixed-Gas Rebreather. In the late 1940s, Dr. C.J. Lambertsen proposed that mixtures of nitrogen or helium with an elevated oxygen content be used in scuba to expand the depth range beyond that allowed by 100-percent oxygen rebreathers, while simultaneously minimizing the requirement for decompression.

In the early 1950s, Lambertsen introduced the FLATUS I, a semiclosed-circuit scuba that continually added a small volume of mixed gas, rather than pure oxygen, to a rebreathing circuit. The small volume of new gas provided the oxygen necessary for metabolic consumption while exhaled carbon dioxide was absorbed in an absorbent canister. Because inert gas, as well as oxygen, was added to the rig, and because the inert gas was not consumed by the diver, a small amount of gas mixture was continuously exhausted from the rig.

1-3.4.2 MK 6 UBA. In 1964, after significant development work, the Navy adopted a semiclosed-circuit, mixed-gas rebreather, the MK 6 UBA, for combat swimming and EOD operations. Decompression procedures for both nitrogen-oxygen and helium-oxygen mixtures were developed at the Navy Experimental Diving Unit. The apparatus had a maximum depth capability of 200 fsw and a maximum endurance of 3 hours depending on water temperature and diver activity. Because the apparatus was based on a constant mass flow of mixed gas, the endurance was independent of the diver's depth.

In the late 1960s, work began on a new type of mixed-gas rebreather technology, which was later used in the MK 15 and MK 16 UBAs. In this UBA, the oxygen partial pressure was controlled at a constant value by an oxygen sensing and addition system. As the diver consumed oxygen, an oxygen sensor detected the fall in oxygen partial pressure and signaled an oxygen valve to open, allowing a small amount of pure oxygen to be admitted to the breathing circuit from a cylinder. Oxygen addition was thus exactly matched to metabolic consumption. Exhaled carbon dioxide was absorbed in an absorption canister. The system had the endurance and completely closed-circuit characteristics of an oxygen rebreather without the concerns and limitations associated with oxygen toxicity.

Beginning in 1979, the MK 6 semiclosed-circuit underwater breathing apparatus (UBA) was phased out by the MK 15 closed-circuit, constant oxygen partial pressure UBA. The Navy Experimental Diving Unit developed decompression procedures for the MK 15 with nitrogen and helium in the early 1980s. In 1985, an improved low magnetic signature version of the MK 15, the MK 16, was approved for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team use.

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