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Friday, February 3, 2017

Research for Oceania The Underwater City—Part 1

*In my last post, I indicated that I’d be sharing some of my research with you. So, I’m going to condense some of my weeks of research into small bites for you. When writing this blog post, I realized it was going to be a lot longer than my other ones so this one will be split in half and released over two posts instead of one. So don’t worry, this isn’t everything.

Originally, when I concocted the story for Oceania: The Underwater City, I thought it would be an easy novel to write. It was going to be a book about the ocean, something I love and know a good deal about. Easy enough, right? No! I wound up spending a lot of time researching anything and everything that I could about ocean living. What I did know only helped me find more topics on which to research. After a while, I got so engrossed in the research that I found myself with less time actually writing the novel. Eventually, I decided to forget researching for a while, write the entire book and then finish my research and add in what was necessary. Big mistake. Not only did I later wind up spending weeks researching everything I needed to find out, but I wound up re-writing over half of the book. I don’t regret it, though; the novel is much better overall for it.

Conditions in the Deep Sea and Bathymetry

Before my research, I already knew that the two biggest issues that the deep sea posed for the city were the crushing pressure and the lack of oxygen at depth. Instead of focusing on the issues of the deep sea, I spent more time researching the bathymetry—or the ocean floor—off the coast of California’s continental shelf.

In the novel, I wanted Allie to be the first “Land Dweller” to discover Oceania since its creation, which meant that it needed to be deep enough to evade notice for over a hundred years. After looking at a map of the bathymetry off the coast of California, I realized that there were many locations deeper than 3,000 to 4,000m (about 9,843 to 13,123ft). Afterward, I changed my original idea of having Oceania at a depth of 7,000ft to 12,000ft, which brought up another complication—the depth of the city. The pressure change between the two depths is from 212.46 to 363.85atm (3,122.26 to 5,347.08psi), which lead me to my next research task of determining what could house the city.

Underwater Submersibles and the Material Used for the City’s Dome

Initially, I wanted to use a real material that could have constructed the dome of Oceania. When searching for materials that the outer dome of the city could be constructed of that would be durable enough to resist over 5,000psi worth of pressure, I examined underwater submersibles like Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). The first ROV I looked at was one of the oldest still in use today—Alvin. It’s been in use since 1964 and can dive to a depth of 4,500m (14,764 ft). Its outer hull is made up of titanium, which allows it to stay at depth for 10 hours. The cost per day to use Alvin is $30,000 USD!

If you want to read more about the Alvin ROV, you can click on the link below:

Mir I and Mir II were other deep sea submersibles that I researched. They have the ability to take three people down to a maximum depth of 6,096m (20,000ft). They each weigh 18.6 tons and have a hull that’s 5cm (2in) thick made up of a combination of nickel and steel. The other two submersibles I researched were the Hercules and Deep Discover (aka D2). Like Alvin, the Hercules is made up of titanium, but it can only dive to 4,000m (13,123ft), which is still deeper than the city of Oceania. However, all of these ROVs had one thing in common—they can’t stay under the water forever. None of their hull materials were strong enough to withstand the pressure that Oceania’s dome would need. After researching for a while longer, I realized that nothing even remotely real exists as of this time (unless there’s a secret project that hasn’t been released to the public yet). So, I left it up to the scientists and engineers of the future to figure out.

If you want to read more about Alvin, Mir I and II, D2, or Hercules, you can click the links below.

Underwater Submersibles

Why didn’t I use submarines as a source of information? Well, I did. They were very helpful for explaining how air and water generation could work underwater and what sort of materials can withstand ocean pressure for an extended amount of time. The problem with submarines was that they don’t dive far enough for the harsh effects of the deep sea to be comparative to Oceania. Another issue was that many of our US submarines use nuclear power to run. I wanted Oceania to be an entirely green city and radioactive waste would be a nightmare for it. Regardless, the research I gained from submarines was useful.

In fact, the most useful piece of information from my research on submarines was how to use seawater to obtain both air and water. Submarines obtain oxygen via oxygen generators and/or the electrolysis of water. Of course, when human beings breathe, we exhale CO2 in addition to humid air. Thus, CO2 scrubbers would be needed. Like in a submarine, a mixture of sodium hydroxide and calcium hydroxide (aka soda lime) is used in Oceania to “scrub” the air free of carbon dioxide. Dehumidifiers are also used in submarines to get rid of excess water in the air. The result is a basin of water that can be used for other things. Submarines also helped me understand how seawater can be used to obtain freshwater water by using a distillation apparatus, which heats the seawater to vapor (thus removing the salts) and then cooling it. The end result is salt-free clean freshwater. This was useful in finding alternative ways of gaining water in Oceania in addition to recycling water already within the city.

For more information on how submarines work, you can check out:

Underwater Structures

During my weeks of research, I looked up everything I could. The hardest thing to find information on turned out to be living underneath the sea itself. There is one full-time underwater habitation called Aquarius, which is a laboratory in Florida owned by Florida International University. Unfortunately, it’s only at a depth of 18.2m (60ft), which is 0.5% of the depth that Oceania sits at. Still, it gave me a lot of useful information on the problems with living underwater.

If you’re interested in checking it out, you can see for yourself at http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/technology/diving/aquarius/aquarius.html

Researching Aquarius was a great starting point because it helped me think of additional research topics. The more I dug for information on substances that could be used to build Oceania and support it, the more I realized there just wasn’t enough information out there on it. So, what did I do? I looked into the ISS (International Space Station). It was through NASA’s research that I found the most informative material on living in extreme conditions.

But space and the ocean are two completely different environments, you say. True, but they present many of the same problems. In both environments, humans can die without proper planning and preparation. Oxygen is a crucial necessity and presents a problem in both locations. Pressure is different than it is at sea level. Whereas there is no gravity in space, in the ocean, the pressure at 12,000ft is immense. Life support systems must be entirely self-sufficient—outside help is too far away. Everything must have a use and waste must be minimal. I could go on and on, but there are many similarities. From NASA, I learned how the ISS runs, how to recycle materials, how to keep the air and water recycled from being contaminated, and what kinds of inventions Oceania would need to function. I will be highlighting that research in the next section. So, stay tuned for the next blog post on the 17th of February.

In the next installment of my research sharing blog posts, I’ll be going over the topics of waste, air, and water treatment, firsthand accounts of deep sea exploration and more.

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog post and if you have any comments, you can leave them here on my blog or email me directly at elizataye@gmail.com.

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