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Inside the Deep Dive Hyperbaric Chamber

Defense Research & Development Canada - Nov. 2009

Going down to the equivalent of 45 meters (150 feet) depth inside a pressurized chamber used to train military deep sea divers.

  • I had the great privilege of being allowed into the deep sea dive chamber which is used by the Canadian Armed Forces for diver training and dive table research purposes. This was the first time that a TV crew had ever been allowed to film inside the chamber while it was pressurized.
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  • The chamber enables the divers to simulate the conditions found at deep depths. There is a dry side and wet side to the chamber and each can be controlled separately. My dive was in the dry side and it was brought down to the equivalent of 45 meters depth (about 150 feet). The chamber is capable of going down to an incredible 1700 meters (5577 feet) depth while unmanned. In order to be allowed inside, I had to be subjected to several days of medical testing beforehand including eyesight & hearing tests, blood & urine tests, a full physical exam, lung capacity tests, an ECG, and a chest X-ray.
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    The dive chamber is divided into 3 sections - The living chamber (dry), the diving chamber (wet) and the transfer sphere.

    Here I am decompressing after my 45 meter dive. We had to breathe pure oxygen for 16 minutes at 9 meters depth.
  • Of course, since we were in a dry chamber and not under water, the dive was unlike an SCUBA dive that I had ever been on before. We had to wear special anti-static, fireproof clothes due to the increased risk of fire in a higher partial pressure of oxygen environment. Once the pressurization began, I immediately had to begin equalizing the pressure on my ears and due to the increased gas pressure, the air inside heated up to 45 degrees C (113 F).
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  • Once "on the bottom" we had just under 20 minutes there before coming back up. One strange phenomenon is the high pitched "sucking on helium" voice that you get due to the increased air density and effects of pressure on the vocal chords. It is hilarious on its own, but add to that the effects of nitrogen narcosis and laughing becomes totally contagious. At these depths, the normally inert nitrogen in our air becomes a narcotic and was acting on my body like the equivalent of about 3 dry martinis on an empty stomach. This impairment could be fatal if you were under water and had to perform critical tasks.
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  • On the way back up, as the gas expanded, the temperature dropped to around the freezing point and the moisture in the air condensed into thick fog inside the chamber and we had to stop at 9 meters (30 feet) to decompress. We waited there for 16 minutes while breathing pure oxygen. This allows most of the nitrogen that has built up in our body tissues to slowly dissipate, preventing the painful and sometimes deadly decompression sickness "The Bends"
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  • After the dive, They performed a doppler scan of my blood to see if I had any residual gas bubbles in my blood, and even though there were nitrogen bubbles in it, I did not get sick. Nevertheless, I was still put on 24 hour "bends watch" just in case I developed any symptoms.
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    The control panel area where the different parts of the chamber are controlled.

    The closest part is the living chamber, where I did my dive.

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    An example of the six inch thick steel that makes up the walls of the chamber.

    Inside the living chamber.

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    The transfer sphere. We put a few props inside and pressurized the transfer sphere down to 750 meters (2460 feet)!

    The coffee cup on the right started out normal size, but the pressure at 700 meters (2460 feet) crushed all the air out of it.

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    I just had to try on one of the hard hat diving helmets.