Atmospheric Diving | Small Steps & Giant Leaps

Just a few short weeks ago I was among the very fortunate group of exploration professionals to take part in National Geographic’s 2013 Explorers Symposium in Washington DC. The week of intensive networking, pitching ideas, and sharing experiences brought forward a full spectrum of emotion in realizing that after literally more than half of my life spent living this ‘life aquatic’, I’ve finally landed  exactly where I’ve wanted to be.

I spent the bulk of the week enthusiastically communicating that the first production Atmospheric Diving System (ADS) Exosuit, designed and built by Nuytco Research Ltd. of Vancouver, and owned by the J.F. White Contracting Company of Massachusetts, very recently went through its final pressure tests, and awaited arrival of the first team of trainees to-be on the system.

On my way to Vancouver with this writing, I am among the fortunate few to be taking part in this pivotal training event over the next week.

The Exosuit Atmospheric Diving System is the next generation ADS technology – an evolution of the famous Newtsuit.

It has been perhaps decades since a giant leap in manned diving technology has reached the community. In this case, the feature set and capabilities of the Exosuit ADS could prove paradigm changing – particularly in the science and engineering fields where underwater tasks are often delicate or require a degree of precision that has previously not been achievable with older ADS systems – and of course provides reaffirmation that the human element in ocean exploration is not to be lost, even with today’s sophisticated robotics.

With my own work, spending just 30 to 45 minutes of working bottom time on a coral reef in excess of 300fsw/90msw using relatively routine wet diving methods has proven incredibly productive, with discoveries of new fish species (notably Derilissus lombardii in Sparks & Gruber 2012), sources of new natural products (possible new medicines), and being able to make basic ecological observations of an alien environment – the work of a naturalist. This work is indeed exciting, though the complexity of wet diving to these depths is cause for task loading, thus imposing limits on the opportunity to carry out more carefully manipulated studies – the impetus for today’s marine science community. Anecdotal discoveries are so important to share the mysteries of an unknown frontier for the first time, but it’s the refined work that provides a deeper understanding of life.


A new species of mesophotic clingfish discovered by M. Lombardi in just a few short minutes at depth, and published by Sparks & Gruber. The specimen is archived at the American Museum of Natural History.
A new species of mesophotic clingfish discovered by M. Lombardi in just a few short minutes at depth, and published by Sparks & Gruber. The specimen is archived at the American Museum of Natural History.


Now imagine a diving scientist descending to that same 300fsw/90msw, or even deeper – passing the lower limits of the Mesophotic (middle-light) zone, and working to the edge of the aphotic (in the dark) environment…not for 30 or 45 minutes, but for a full work day – lifetimes of discovery potential. That is the opportunity afforded with ADS technology.

While time will tell with the true capabilities of this new Exosuit and the giant leaps it may likely afford, there are numerous small steps to be taken in the coming months. First and foremost – an intensive week of learning how to operate and maintain the new Exosuit ADS system in Vancouver.

This Blog mini-series chronicles the author’s journey through depth, time, and space with the latest generation Atmospheric Diving System (ADS) Exosuit, designed and constructed by Dr. Phil Nuytten of Nuytco Research Ltd. in Vancouver, British Columbia. The first production suit is owned and operated by the Diving Division at the J. F. White Contracting Company located in Massachusetts – who has generously reached out to the science community to afford new opportunities for discovery with this technology.

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Michael is a subaquatic entrepreneur, literary artist, environmental advocate, and explorer who strives to create a body of work to improve humans' personal experience with, and within, the ocean through unique applications and development of diving technology.