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Aquarius Reef Base is a comprehensive research and education program consisting of complementary assets that can be used together or individually to meet specific project needs. Aquarius Reef Base consists of the Aquarius undersea lab below the ocean; a life support buoy on the surface that houses power generators, air compressors and data connections; research vessels ranging from 30-43 feet in length; and a mission control center in Islamorada, Florida.

Undersea Lab

Aquarius Reef Base gives researchers and divers the convenience of living in their underwater field site without sacrificing the comforts of home. Made to withstand the pressure of ocean depths up to 120 feet, the 82-ton lab currently sits on a 120-ton stable platform in a sand patch adjacent to the deep coral reefs of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Continual power and telecommunications capabilities make Aquarius an ideal platform for research projects, advanced sensor development, long-term monitoring of coastal oceans and coral reefs and education and outreach. Web cameras operate during missions with cameras inside and outside Aquarius. Live broadcasts (webcasts and special videoconferencing opportunities) are frequently conducted that involve schools, museums, and aquariums across the country.

Aquarius floor plan

Floor Plan

Aquarius port side schematic

Port

Aquarius starboard side schematicStarboard

The habitat itself is a 43-by-20-by-16.5 foot diameter steel cylinder divided into three compartments, with 400 square feet of laboratory and living space is available for operations and science. 

  • Wet Porch - the seawater interface and main point of entry
  • Two pressure locks known as the Entry Lock and Main Lock - 500 and 1400 cubic feet, respectively
  • Living quarters with six bunks, freshwater shower, toilet, instant hot water, microwave and refrigerator
  • Wireless internet, cellular telephones, video conferencing equipment and VHF radio

Schematic of Aquarius undersea lab

Specifications

  • 15.4 kilometers (8.5 nautical miles) from Islamorada shore base
  • 9 kilometers (5.4 nautical miles) offshore
  • Hatch depth/storage depth: 14 meters (46 fsw), 35 psi
  • 63 feet below surface
  • Base plate positions habitat 13 feet off the bottom
  • Working depth in lab: 50 feet
  • Depth of bottom directly below: 18 meters (60 fsw)

Life Support Buoy

The 10-meter-diameter Life Support Buoy includes:

  • Communication tower
  • Over 70-square meters of inside workspace
  • Two diesel-powered 40 kW generators (image below)
  • Two 18.7 cfm air compressors (right image)
  • VHF radios, a cell phone, and a microwave broadcasting system

Buoy Specifications 

The buoy is linked to Aquarius by a 3-inch-diameter 42-meter umbilical which is comprised of hoses that supply air from the compressors and oxygen from storage flasks, power lines from the generators, and data and communications cables. The microwave telemetry system provides reliable audio, video, and data transmission between Aquarius and shore.

During missions, sensors use existing generator power from the buoy. When Aquarius is offline, sensors may be powered, depending upon demand, by the existing solar panels. The buoy can accommodate an alternate power supply (e.g., small diesel generator, additional solar panels or other) provided by the PI.

Vessels

Research vessels are used support Aquarius operations, science projects and education and outreach programming throughout the Upper Florida Keys.

  • R/V Sabina

    • Length: 43 feet
    • Divers: 8
    • Speed: 12-14kts
  • R/V Bond

    • Length: 42 feet
    • Divers: 10
    • Speed: 15-20 kts
    • Includes Transportable Recompression Chamber System
  • R/V Research Diver

    • Length: 30 feet
    • Divers: 8
    • Speed: 12 kts
  • R/V Dewey Dewayne

Shore Base

Our Shore Base in Islamorada, Florida, provides a staging area for marine operations, education and outreach activities. It includes:

  • Watch desk aka mission control for Aquarius projects
  • 120 linear feet of dockage for a fleet of research vessels
  • Compressors for filling air and Nitrox cylinders
  • Dive locker and scuba equipment service area
  • 72-inch hyperbaric recompression chamber
  • 345-square-foot classroom