This July, deep-sea diver Mike Lombardi plans to plunge 1,000 feet below the sea in a newly-designed, high tech “Exosuit” that will take him hundreds of feet deeper than he’s ever been able to dive in conventional gear. His goal? To discover species of bioluminescent animals unknown to marine science, which spend their entire lives living in complete darkness.
This type of suit has a longer history than most people might expect — divers first created suits in the 1700s to help them harvest treasure from shipwrecks. In the 1960s, awkward, puffy “Michelin man” diving suits helped workers stay underwater for longer periods of time. In the 70s, new development mostly came from the oil, gas, and construction industries, causing independent development for scientific purposes to stall for several decades.
The Exosuit, which was recently displayed at the American Museum of Natural History, represents the revival of that tradition. It has four 1.6 horsepower water jet thrusters to propel divers through the water, an oxygen system capable of providing 50 hours of life support, and a fiber-optic tether that allows two-way communication with the surface. Perhaps most significant, it contains a set of flexible joints, making it easier to move in. Lombardi calls the Exosuit “a one-man submarine for your body.”
Unlike conventional diving gear, the Exosuit allows divers to remain in the depths for hours, rather than a matter of minutes — and there’s no need to slowly ascend to the surface over the course of hours to decompress. Lombardi’s first dive is planned about 100 miles off the New England coast, where he’ll descend partway down the edge of a coastal shelf’s 10,000-foot drop into the sea. That late at night, bioluminescent fish will rise to “shallow” 1,000-foot depths to feed, allowing Lombardi to take photos with a specialized camera and collect samples of undiscovered life.