SCUBA diving to conduct research is not the same as diving for pleasure. Science diving using self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) requires the scientist to not only pay attention to typical safety concerns while underwater — remaining air pressure, depth, obstacles and other hazards, and time beneath the surface — they have added concerns like lugging equipment, taking notes, censusing moving sea creatures, and keeping track of all that is going on around them and each other at a specific site. To conduct scientific work while underwater requires significant preparation. Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences has just recently completed a very rigorous yearlong evaluation to ensure that its scientists who dive are fully prepared to dive safely while conducting underwater research.
The American Academy of Underwater Sciences certified Bigelow Laboratory to conduct underwater scientific sampling and experiments. This certification currently covers six Bigelow Laboratory scientists, with more expected as the program expands. The AAUS certification also has a reciprocity condition that makes it possible for Bigelow Laboratory scientists to dive with collaborator scientists in Maine and at other currently AAUS-certified institutions across the globe.
In addition to the Laboratory’s membership, Facility Manager Timothy Pinkham was also awarded the designation of dive safety officer, which required more than 300 hours of training and additional certifications. Training allowed Pinkham, who was a standard open-water diver, to move through the ranks of an advanced open-water diver to master diver to assistant dive instructor to Instructor, all over the course of five months. Pinkham participated in 40 dives that included deep dives (greater then 100'), night dives, dives as an instructor, safety dives, Nitrox dives, cold and warm water dives, and blue water dives. As a dive safety officer, Tim will oversee the scientific diving activities at Bigelow Laboratory to ensure they meet the safety the AAUS standards for safe diving.
“AAUS requires scientific divers to have a higher level of training and proficiency than most recreational divers so that diving procedures become second-nature,” explains Senior Research Scientist and certified diver Nichole Price, who has logged more than 1000 dives below the surface. “This AAUS program is great for Bigelow Laboratory because it helps to make sure scientific divers remain safe, while conducting really important work in shallow coastal waters that we can’t accomplish without seeing firsthand.” Price has done most of her scientific diving in the tropics, but has expanded her interests to colder Maine waters.
AAUS has endeavored to promote safe, effective scientific diving since 1951. As dive technology has improved, allowing more scientists to dive deeper and longer, the necessity for proper training has subsequently increased. The AAUS designation helps to ensure divers are well trained and demonstrates the commitment of their institutions to dive safety.