"All we really want to know is roughly where things are, where concentrations of things are, then we can start the excavation," Foley said.
The first diving excavators will be equipped with a closed-circuit rebreathing system that absorbs the carbon dioxide from each exhaled breath and allows the user to breath in the unused oxygen from each breath. The rebreathers will give the divers at least 30 minutes of bottom time. Then the team will bring out the big guns — the Exosuit that allows for virtually unlimited bottom time.
Reaching the bottom
Pieces of the Antikythera shipwreck could be hidden at depths of 400 feet (120 m). The sponge divers in 1900 could only reach depths of about 150 feet (50 m) and could only stay below the water's surface for a few minutes at a time. In contrast, a diver in the Exosuit can safely reach up to 1,000 feet (300 m) and can potentially stay submerged for up to 50 hours; a cable connecting the suit to the surface cycles out carbon dioxide and filters in new oxygen.
The suit also protects against decompression sickness, or "the bends." Divers, and even some sea creatures, get the bends when they swim to the surface too quickly and the rapid change in water pressure creates nitrogen bubbles in the blood. Divers using the rebreathers can only spend 30 minutes below, because it takes them about an hour and a half to resurface to ensure their bodies have time to adjust to the pressure change.
Here, the Exosuit again has an advantage. Operators on the ship can haul the user up to the surface in just two or three minutes since the wearer will not feel any pressure change in the metal suit.
The high-tech suit also offers advantages over remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Unmanned ROVs commonly used to explore shipwrecks can't collect the delicate corroded artifacts that a diver can, and the Exosuit is equipped with claws for hands that will allow the wearer to sift through sediment and grasp any unearthed treasures.
"If we find what we think we're going to find, we're expecting this to turn into a five-year project," Foley said.
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