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How You Get Dry Supplies to an Underwater Base—Without a Submarine

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You think carrying your grocery and laundry into your 5th-floor walkup is a pain in the ass? Try bringing that stuff into an undersea base without it getting soaked. How do you do it? The answer is surprisingly low-tech: pressure pots.

Pressure pots are paint cans that have been modified with a release valve that lets them gradually normalize to their surroundings' pressure. When they go down to the habitat, the valves let air flow in slowly, adjusting to an environment that is at 2.5x regular atmospheric pressure; when they come, they let the pressure slowly bleed off. Clamps or bolts hold the lids on, and divers swim them 50 feet down to the entrance of Aquarius Reef Base. Without the bleed off valve, a pot would be dangerously compressed when brought to the surface—the lid could literally fly off when you undid the clamps. When brought down to the bottom, a canister's vacuum would make it impossible to open.

At the start of missions, pot runs can take a few hours, with a pair of divers shuttling 10-15 runs of towels, food, linens, clothing, papers, electronics, and other personal things the Aquanauts need during their mission. During the mission, divers just take one or two pots down a day, and haul trash back up.


Living underwater still depends on a lot of support from the surface. Which is one big reason why many habitats under the sea have ceased operation since the ‘60s and ‘70s. Of course, this makes me wonder what a modern ocean habitat would look like, with more self sustaining systems designed with modern technology built-in.

Mission Aquarius is our week-long trip to the world's last remaining undersea habitat: Aquarius Reef Base.


Brian Lam is an ocean exploration journalist and the editor of The Scuttlefish and The Wirecutter. He is a Gizmodo alum and a Wired Magazine contributor. Videos provided by One World One Ocean, a campaign dedicated to telling the story of the ocean through multimedia.