The ship is sinking. Survivors are fading fast, descending under the ocean's surface. All hope is gone.
But wait! What's that? A submarine? It's a miracle! Captain Nemo and his crew save the day!
Now the rescued travelers can go home. But where are they being taken? To an underwater city, where the inhabitants are dedicated to a peaceful civilization. Peaceful -- and secret. Once you're there, you can never leave. Quite a predicament for the survivors.
The 1969 science-fiction movie "Captain Nemo and the Underwater City" illustrated what life could be like living under the ocean if you had the time and resources to create such a metropolis. But why would you bother? (Other than developing a Utopian society, that is.) Did you know that a few people actually do live underwater? The settings are not as expansive as the Underwater City, the purposes are different and the timeframe is shorter, but dwellings do exist in marine habitats.
When you stop to speculate, there could be several motives for residing there, ranging from scientific to functional to aesthetic. Let's take a look at some of the reasons we might consider living undersea, progressing from fanciful to practical.
10: The Undersea Setting Is Unique And Beautiful.
Look out your window, and you might see trees, cars, fields, buildings or birds. This could be pleasant, even attractive, but it probably can't compare to a coral reef, the exquisite collection of sea animals forming a branching, intricate structure. Often rigid and brightly colored, coral reefs offer space for fish to hide from predators, living quarters for species harvested for medicines, and protection of shorelines from rough waves [source: NOAA].
And of course, there are other engaging sea creatures. Some have novel modes of locomotion, such as jellyfish, which float helplessly side to side but propel themselves vertically through rhythmic pulsations that eject water. A squid takes water expulsion to a higher level, pressing water out through a tube to create explosive jets, allowing it to travel in excess of 25 miles (40 kilometers) per hour.
Some fish exemplify grace and beauty. The parrot fish is hued like its namesake: bright greens, blues and yellows. (They also have an interesting trait of shifting sex back and forth during their lifetime.) The slender, regal angelfish has striking tones, such as lemon yellow, flaming orange and electric blue.
With all these amazing creatures for neighbors, who wouldn't want to live underwater?
9: You Could Establish Your Very Own Micronation.
Ever get annoyed by your tax bill, a speeding ticket or an election? Want to do something about it? How about creating your own country? Consider establishing a micronation, a self-styled realm founded to support political beliefs, protest governmental control or just have fun. Although micronations are occasionally located on land, countries usually frown upon an individual usurping territory and declaring it sovereign. For this reason, micronations are often marine-based (such as an island, a sea platform or a scuttled sea craft). But uninhabited islands are scarce, and it's difficult to build offshore from scratch (sinking is a problem). Why not look into setting up a micronation under the ocean, where there are vast tracks of unclaimed real estate?
To assist you in your planning, here are some examples of island micronations:
- The Kingdom of North Dumpling Island is in New York State; it's owned by Dean Kamen, the Segway inventor.
- Lundy, an island off the United Kingdom, was a fiefdom in the early 20th century.
- The Conch Republic, an island in the Florida Keys, was created in 1982 in reaction to government regulations. Their motto is, "We seceded where others failed."
- The Dominion of Melchizedek was founded in the South Pacific in 1990, supposedly as a religious state, but it may have been used as a headquarters for business fraud.
- Sealand is a former WWII gun tower platform off the English coast. It was once considered a site for an Internet data haven.
8: The Location Is Convenient To An Excellent Food Supply.
You're out to dinner at a nice seafood restaurant. Do you start with a shrimp cocktail? Maybe some clams casino? Will you have mussels for your entre? Ooh, fresh salmon!
Chances are good that some of your meal is coming from a farm. Aquaculture, the growing and gathering of edible water plants and animals, is an expanding commercial enterprise; it accounts for almost half the fish eaten in the world. The stock on many fish farms is fed with plants specifically raised for that purpose. In 2007, China supplied 70 percent of aquaculture yield; other Asian countries accounted for one-fifth. The United States provided a mere 1.5 percent, although it spent $8 billion on aquaculture products [source: Outcalt].
If you lived undersea, you'd be that much closer to some high-quality protein. Aquaculture is not without the following problems, however:
- Waste from fish impacting water near the farms
- Fugitive farm fish propagating in the wild
- Fish farms being built in wildlife areas
- Fish in the wild being used for food on farms
To meet the growing demand for farmed fish in an environmentally responsible way, these issues must be addressed. Many organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund, are working with stakeholders to develop standards of practice for fish farms [sources: NOAA, World Wildlife Fund].
7: Weather Could Be Controlled.
It's 6:00 a.m. You part the curtains. Oh, great, another rainy day. Maybe tomorrow there will be something different, like fog.
When you're on land, weather happens to you. If you lived undersea, however, you'd be in an enclosed structure. The inhabitants, not nature, would determine the temperature and humidity of the environment. You want it sunny? You got it (artificially, of course). You want a little snow or rain? It's possible. In fact, some scientists have been investigating controlling precipitation for years.
Attempts at weather modification have focused primarily on cloud seeding, attempting to increase rain or snow. The year 1946 brought a breakthrough: Developments by General Electric scientists made large-scale cloud seeding feasible and affordable. Chemicals like silver iodide and liquid propane are added to clouds through ground generators blowing chemicals skyward, rockets carrying chemicals from the ground to clouds and planes releasing chemicals into the clouds.
Cloud seeding is being used in some form in more than 40 countries, though its effectiveness is debatable. Other modes of weather modification have been proposed:
- Microwaves sent from satellites with the intention of diffusing tornadoes
- Pouring oil onto the ocean's surface, reducing the amount of water that can evaporate to feed a hurricane
- Adding chemicals to storms to diminish hail
- Adding chemicals to fog to hasten its dispersal from runways
6: You'd Live Conveniently Close To A Growing Energy Source: Wind Turbines.
Interest in wind energy is expanding. It doesn't produce harmful byproducts, and its use reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Ocean placement of wind turbines is optimal because of the strong, unbroken flow of air. (There are no trees or buildings on the ocean to slow down the wind!) Nothing's perfect, though; there are some concerns:
- Turbines may impact weather patterns; harnessing wind could increase local temperatures and evaporation. On the other hand, increased reliance on wind power may decrease reliance on fossil fuel consumption that contributes to global climate change [source: Lloyd].
- Some folks who live on the coastline object to the unsightliness of turbines. Typically, they're built where the ocean is 20 to 30 meters (66 to 98 feet) deep, although some have been erected off Scotland's shore in 50 meters (164 feet) of water [source: Thompson].
Joint research at MIT and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has resulted in a potential solution for the last problem. Researchers have developed plans for floating platforms to support turbines. Compared to turbines in shallower water, those in very deep water would be less expensive, more productive and less likely to be disrupted by severe weather. Transporting the energy to land would be complicated, but, if you lived undersea, you would have easier access [source: Than].
5: You Could Have Transportation and Housing All In One.
There are some people who live in their recreational vehicles year-round. Whether they're retired and traveling, are tired of paying housing costs or want to minimize material possessions, they sleep, eat, play, relax and trek in the same contraption. They still have to contend with other vehicles, pedestrians, driving laws and the weather. But what if you could have the joys of self-contained living without the hassles of being on land? What if you inhabited a submarine?
What's it like to live on a sub? Not many folks can speak to that experience, but the Navy trained most who can. Nuclear subs can submerge for months at a time, so food is of utmost importance. Canned, frozen and dried foods compose the bulk of the menu, and provisions are stored in designated areas or in any available space.
An inevitable consequence of food preparation is trash. Selected garbage is placed in a weighted steel mesh cylinder and released, dropping to the ocean floor. Some is compacted and stored until it can be recycled or otherwise disposed of on shore.
To work off meals, the crew can run laps inside the sub or use stationary machines, situated wherever they fit.
If you're not sure how well you'd fare living underwater, you might want to consider renting a submarine first: A Dutch company will lease you a small sub in the Caribbean. You wouldn't want to discover, too late, that you're claustrophobic [source: Gizmag].
4: The Environment On Land Is Deteriorating.
In 2007, Americans alone generated 254 million tons of municipal waste [source: American Society of Civil Engineers]. The materials that pile up in landfills don't readily decompose, either, since the air and water required aren't accessible.
We're adding trash to the environment, but trees are being eliminated. Each year, approximately 30,000 square miles (77,700 square kilometers) of forests are destroyed, not by fire, but by human intervention. Trees are obliterated to make way for crop and livestock farms, logging and access roads. At the present rate, rainforests will be erased in 100 years. Many species will disappear as well; forests house the majority of the world's land animals. Loss of trees will also contribute to climate change, permitting quicker evaporation, which will lead to higher temperatures [source: National Geographic].
Going underground generates problems as well. Mines are not only potentially dangerous for workers, but also for those who live around them. Local water supplies are infiltrated with toxic runoff, such as arsenic and metals. Communities near some mining sites report increased numbers of heart, lung and kidney diseases [source: ScienceDaily].
Environmental problems are not limited to the land. Despite government regulations, air pollution is still a problem in some areas, with emissions from cars, factories and refineries [source: GreenstudentU]. Undersea, breathing might be a little easier.
3: Rising Water Levels Might Make Undersea Living Necessary.
So far we've been talking about living undersea as a choice, but what if water levels rise so high that large sections of land are submerged? Only about 30 percent of the Earth is land; can we afford to lose any of it [source: NOAA]?
After the last ice age 21,000 years ago (resulting in a sea level increase of 120 meters, or 394 feet), the oceans did not vary much. Sea level has held steady for the last few thousand years, but as the world neared the start of the 20th century, the level began to rise again. Since the 1990s, there has been an annual 3-millimeter increase. That may not seem like much, but it's cumulative: Sea level could rise by almost half a meter (1.6 feet) by the end of the 21st century [source: National Snow and Ice Data Center].
Most scientists believe the major cause of the rising sea level is global climate change; around the world, the average temperature increased 1 degree Fahrenheit during the last century. Rising temperatures affect water levels: Water expands as it warms, and glaciers melt. Over time, if the sea level rose just 1 meter (3.3 feet), the coastal cities in the United States would be underwater. Bangladesh and the Nile Delta are examples of two other highly populated areas that face a similar fate. A computer model predicted a 7-meter (23-foot) rise in sea level by the next millennium. We can wave good-bye as Florida disappears beneath the waves, or we can greet it from our undersea home [sources: Lovgren, McDermott, Griggs].
2: We Might Have To Go Undersea Simply For Space.
What's the world population now? It's 6,876,502,740. No, 6,876,502,845. Wait, it's 6,876,502,890. In the time it takes to type out that number, the population has increased; it rose almost 800 million between 2000 and 2010 [source: Internet World Stats]. The rate of increase is slowing, but not stopping or reversing [source: U.S. Census Bureau]. There's a finite amount of space on Earth, so maybe it's time to turn to the oceans. Water covers 71 percent of Earth's surface; that's a lot of undeveloped property [source: NOAA].
Sizeable unoccupied regions are disappearing. Some of the most populated countries in 2010, like China and India, also have large land masses; however, the populations are dense. As the world's population continues to grow, finding ways to live undersea may be a viable option for spreading out resources.
1: Living Undersea Is Good Practice For Going Into Space, If You're So Inclined.
In space, no one can hear you scream. It's not that easy to be heard underwater, either. Screaming practice, however, is not the reason that NASA holds astronaut training underwater. With the proper equipment, the weightlessness of space can be mimicked, and astronauts can rehearse the difficult maneuvers they'll be expected to undertake while in space.
Repair crews for the Hubble telescope have prepared using an underwater Hubble model at the Johnson Space Center near Houston. For every hour they anticipate servicing the telescope, participants must practice for 20 hours underwater [source: Goddard].
Both Russian and American crews have used water tanks (in separate locations) before going to the International Space Station. Training is similar in each country: Russians and Americans concentrate on the specific tasks they'll perform, while Russians spend additional time reviewing emergency procedures.
In anticipation of a return to the moon in 2020, astronauts lived in the U.S. Aquarius, an underwater research station in the Florida Keys. Wearing gravity-simulating backpacks, they worked on erecting underwater structures similar to communication relays to be assembled on the moon [source: Malik].
You may consider moving undersea because of the natural beauty or convenient location to food and energy. It may be a professional decision, like the astronauts. Hopefully, the conclusion won't be thrust upon you due to population, pollution or climate crises; if these dilemmas continue unabated, humans may be living underwater with Captain Nemo.
For more science articles, check out the links on the next page.
Lots More Information
- 10 Items that Went Down with the Titanic
- 10 Ways Life Has Adapted To Its Environment
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- 10 Finds that Define Human Evolution
- 10 Ecosystems Devastated by Invasive Species
More Great Links
- California Aquaculture
- Conch Republic
- Interactive Weather Maker
- International Space Station
- Principality of Sealand
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