Changing Planet

Going Live in 3…2…1: A Google Hangout Inside a Manned Submersible

Young Explorer Erika Bergman is sharing the thrill of diving in a submersible with classrooms and onlookers all over the world. With external and internal cameras mounted on her sub, viewers will experience a new vantage point as Erika pilots through the deep coral reefs of Curacao and Honduras. Follow her expedition and post your comments right here onExplorers Journal or tweet your questions at @erika_bergman

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Winding out of a sliding glass door, around a tree, and underneath a 15-ton crane, 200 feet of Cat-6 Ethernet cable is strung around SubStation Curacao like a cat has been at a ball of string. Plugged into the terminal end of the Ethernet cable, my laptop is plunked down on the grey bench seat of the CuraSub.

I have my dive notes within reach, my online participants standing by, and I’m linked to the whole world via the Internet. I am ready to broadcast the first live Google Hangout from inside a submersible. There’s one catch, I am in a swimming pool. Or rather, I am in a one-of-a-kind freshwater rinse tank designed for a minivan-sized research sub, but it’s pretty much just the deep end of a swimming pool.

The CuraSub is lifted from the seawater into a freshwater rinse pool by the same crane which built the sub’s custom marina. Photo by Erika Bergman.

To test online communication systems I need to do my first few broadcasts from the surface. Unfortunately, subs are notoriously uncomfortable at the surface of the ocean. If you don’t think you’re prone to seasickness, get in a sub and wait. The surface of the ocean is a not a comfortable place to be bouncing around in a little metal sphere.

At high latitudes icy rain can pour down through the open hatch and at lower latitudes water droplets coat everything in the viscous brine of the equatorial seas. I don’t mean to dissuade anyone, but subs are simply not designed to spend extended periods of time on the surface. It’s when the sub descends that things become peaceful and productive. So until I am ready to broadcast from 1000 feet, this pool is the perfect test tank.

I’m holding the first test Hangout (see below) with a diverse group of participants including a university professor, a high school teacher, and a discussion moderator. Over half an hour, I give a tour of the sub’s interior and field questions about my dives in Curacao, from the life support systems of the sub to the deep sea corals I encountered.

Among the most exciting moments on my dives was the slow-speed chase and spearing of an invasive lionfish using the sub’s mechanical arm! Not your typical approach to ocean conservation, but neither is this a typical way to involve people in exploring our oceans.

Coming up: A thousand miles away in Roatan, Honduras, I’ll hold a Google Hangout from the homebuilt submersible Idabel.

NEXT: Classrooms Under the Sea: Descending into the Deep Reefs of Curaçao

Read the entire blog series

As a submarine pilot and National Geographic Explorer Erika Bergman is a passionate storyteller. She studied chemical oceanography at the University of Washington while working as a diesel engineer aboard the tall ship S/V Lady Washington and a steam ship engineer aboard the S/S Virginia V. Since then she has worked as a submersible pilot for exploration, research and filmmaking. Erika is an editor of OpenExplorer.com, a site dedicated to supporting and curating a new era of connected, citizen exploration. She is also the Founder of GEECs - Global Engineering & Exploration Counselors; providing a network of thrilling engineering camps to girls around the world. Photo - Heather Perry.

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