Water Depth and Sound In shallow water or in enclosed spaces reflections and

reverberations from the air/water and object/water interfaces produce anomalies in the sound field, such as echoes, dead spots, and sound nodes. When swimming in shallow water, among coral heads, or in enclosed spaces, a diver can expect periodic losses in acoustic communication signals and disruption of acoustic navigation beacons. The problem becomes more pronounced as the frequency of the signal increases.

Because sound travels so quickly underwater (4,921 feet per second), human ears cannot detect the difference in time of arrival of a sound between each ear. Consequently, a diver cannot always locate the direction of a sound source. This disadvantage can have serious consequences for a diver or swimmer trying to locate an object or a source of danger, such as a powerboat.

2-7.2.1 Diver Work and Noise. Open-circuit scuba affects sound reception by producing high noise levels at the diver's head and by creating a screen of bubbles that reduces the effective sound pressure level (SPL). When several divers are working in the same area, the noise and bubbles affect communication signals more for some divers than for others, depending on the position of the divers in relation to the communicator and to each other.

A neoprene wet suit is an effective barrier to sound above 1,000 Hz and it becomes more of a barrier as frequency increases. This problem can be overcome by exposing a small area of the head either by cutting holes at the ears of the suit or by folding a small flap away from the surface.

2-7.2.2 Pressure Waves. Sound is transmitted through water as a series of pressure waves. High-intensity sound is transmitted by correspondingly high-intensity pressure waves. A high-pressure wave transmitted from the water surrounding a diver to the open spaces within the body (ears, sinuses, lungs) may increase the pressure within these open spaces, causing injury. Underwater explosions and sonar can create high-intensity sound or pressure waves. Low intensity sonar, such as depth finders and fish finders, do not produce pressure waves intense enough to endanger divers. However, anti-submarine sonar-equipped ships do pulse dangerous, high-intensity pressure waves.

It is prudent to suspend diving operations if a high-powered sonar transponder is being operated in the area. When using a diver-held pinger system, divers are advised to wear the standard %-inch neoprene hood for ear protection. Experiments have shown that such a hood offers adequate protection when the ultrasonic pulses are of 4-millisecond duration, repeated once per second for acoustic source levels up to 100 watts, at head-to-source distances as short as 0.5 feet (Pence and Sparks, 1978).

2-7.3 Underwater Explosions. An underwater explosion creates a series of waves that are transmitted as hydraulic shock waves in the water, and as seismic waves in the seabed. The hydraulic shock wave of an underwater explosion consists of an initial wave followed by further pressure waves of diminishing intensity. The initial high-intensity shock wave is the result of the violent creation and liberation of a large volume of gas, in the form of a gas pocket, at high pressure and temperature. Subsequent pressure waves are caused by rapid gas expansion in a non-compressible environment, causing a sequence of contractions and expansions as the gas pocket rises to the surface.

The initial high-intensity shock wave is the most dangerous; as it travels outward from the source of the explosion, it loses its intensity. Less severe pressure waves closely follow the initial shock wave. Considerable turbulence and movement of the water in the area of the explosion are evident for an extended time after the detonation.

2-7.3.1 Type of Explosive and Size of the Charge. Some explosives have characteristics of high brisance (shattering power in the immediate vicinity of the explosion) with less power at long range, while the brisance of others is reduced to increase their power over a greater area. Those with high brisance generally are used for cutting or shattering purposes, while high-power, low-brisance explosives are used in depth charges and sea mines where the target may not be in immediate contact and the ability to inflict damage over a greater area is an advantage. The high-brisance explosives create a high-level shock and pressure waves of short duration over a limited area. Low brisance explosives create a less intense shock and pressure waves of long duration over a greater area.

2-7.3.2 Characteristics of the Seabed. Aside from the fact that rock or other bottom debris may be propelled through the water or into the air with shallow-placed charges, bottom conditions can affect an explosion's pressure waves. A soft bottom tends to dampen reflected shock and pressure waves, while a hard, rock bottom may amplify the effect. Rock strata, ridges and other topographical features of the seabed may affect the direction of the shock and pressure waves, and may also produce secondary reflecting waves.

2-7.3.3 Location of the Explosive Charge. Research has indicated that the magnitude of shock and pressure waves generated from charges freely suspended in water is considerably greater than that from charges placed in drill holes in rock or coral.

2-7.3.4 Water Depth. At great depth, the shock and pressure waves are drawn out by the greater water volume and are thus reduced in intensity. An explosion near the surface is not weakened to the same degree.

2-7.3.5 Distance from the Explosion. In general, the farther away from the explosion, the greater the attenuation of the shock and pressure waves and the less the intensity. This factor must be considered in the context of bottom conditions, depth of water, and reflection of shock and pressure waves from underwater structures and topographical features.

2-7.3.6 Degree of Submersion of the Diver. A fully submerged diver receives the total effect of the shock and pressure waves passing over the body. A partially submerged diver whose head and upper body are out of the water, may experience a reduced effect of the shock and pressure waves on the lungs, ears, and sinuses. However, air will transmit some portion of the explosive shock and pressure waves. The head, lungs, and intestines are the parts of the body most vulnerable to the pressure effects of an explosion. A pressure wave of 500 pounds per square inch is sufficient to cause serious injury to the lungs and intestinal tract, and one greater than 2,000 pounds per square inch will cause certain death. Even a pressure wave of 500 pounds per square inch could cause fatal injury under certain circumstances.

2-7.3.7 Estimating Explosion Pressure on a Diver. There are various formulas for estimating the pressure wave resulting from an explosion of TNT. The equations vary in format and the results illustrate that the technique for estimation is only an approximation. Moreover, these formulas relate to TNT and are not applicable to other types of explosives.

The formula below (Greenbaum and Hoff, 1966) is one method of estimating the pressure on a diver resulting from an explosion of tetryl or TNT.


P = pressure on the diver in pounds per square inch

W = weight of the explosive (TNT) in pounds r = range of the diver from the explosion in feet

Sample Problem. Determine the pressure exerted by a 45-pound charge at a distance of 80 feet.

1. Substitute the known values.

2. Solve for the pressure exerted. 13, 0003/45

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