Earlier in 2013, scientists discovered the largest volcano on Earth, which sits under the Pacific Ocean a thousand miles east of Japan. This geologic giant also rivals the largest volcano in the solar system – Mars's Olympus Mons peak, which we've known about for centuries. That a dome-shaped formation the size of New Mexico on the seafloor had gone unnoticed until long after the advent of space exploration speaks volumes about just how little knowledge we have regarding the 70 percent of the world that's covered by water.
This century will see the end of our ignorance.
From state-of-the-art diving gear to vessels that appear to have been lifted from the pages of science fiction, new technologies are allowing underwater explorers to go farther and deeper than ever before. Several decades after scuba gear first allowed us to poke around in the shallows, manned and unmanned submersibles are taking scientists into the depths, cameras are bringing open water to the masses, and underwater planes are swooping through vast expanses of blue.
Technology is the prerequisite for oceanic exploration, and the next wave of innovations has arrived. Here are the devices and vehicles that will finally allow humans to explore the rest of our world.
Just mention the new Exosuit and Jean-Michel Cousteau gets giddy. He's like a boy who just played with the world's coolest toy.
That's because the new Exosuit is like a submarine you can wear; no need to get wet, cold, or breathe compressed air from a tank. An Exosuit wearer can go deeper and stay down much longer than is possible with standard scuba gear, and he or she can dive with reduced risk.
Heck, there's enough room in there to pull your arms out of the sleeves and eat a sandwich – a good thing considering how long you can spend underwater. "This is a dream coming true," says Cousteau, whose late father, the legendary Jacques, co-invented modern scuba in the mid-20th century. "My dad gave us the first 300 feet, now we're going to be able to go to 1,000 feet in five minutes, spend 10 hours down there and come back in five minutes."
It's a quantum leap downward, Cousteau says, and not just because of the technical wow factor, but because the Exosuit will open doors to a better understanding of "our life support system, which happens to be the ocean."
Developed and built by Nuytco Research Ltd. in North Vancouver, Canada, the Exosuit is made of an aluminum alloy and can withstand surrounding water pressure that approaches 500 pounds per square inch. It still affords the mobility a diver needs to be useful. It's also got directional thrusters you control with your feet, as Cousteau experienced for himself during a first test dive in the suit last summer.
"Your are independent. You are free. You can do loops. You can go up and down. You can do anything you want. It's total freedom – like being in space. Like being an astronaut," says Cousteau, who's seen a lot of dive gear in his day and never had this sort of affinity for any of it.