Coming soon: A Co-op Experience Living Under the Ocean in the World’s Largest Undersea Science Station

MES/CEE Professor Mark Patterson and CEE Affiliated Faculty Brian Helmuth serve as chief science advisors for the Proteus project, which involves the development of an underwater habitat observatory and lab off the coast of Curacao to research marine science and train for extreme environments like outer space.

This article originally appeared on Northeastern Global News. It was published by Cynthia McCormick Hibbert. Main Photo Courtesy of Proteus Ocean Group

Imagine a co-op experience in which Northeastern University students live for weeks at a time in the world’s largest undersea science station, venturing into the surrounding Caribbean waters on daily scuba dives.

This type of experiential learning is one step closer to reality thanks to an agreement between Northeastern and the developer of the underwater station, Proteus Ocean Group.

Founded by Fabien Cousteau, grandson of famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, Proteus plans to have a modular underwater habitat observatory and lab installed off the coast of Curacao, possibly by the end of 2025.

Marine scientists Brian Helmuth and Mark Patterson are Northeastern’s chief science advisors for the Proteus project. Both work at the Coastal Sustainability Institute of the Marine Science Center in Nahant, Massachusetts.

“This formalizes Northeastern as the go-to institution,” Helmuth says.

“Because of the tremendous research and educational value that this habitat will provide, our ambitions on the Northeastern side are really to involve students at all levels,” says Patterson, who directs the field robotics laboratory at Northeastern.

It won’t be just the students in marine science going to Curacao, Patterson says.

“It will be engineers and health sciences students,” he says, “because so much of what Proteus will enable will be not just marine science, but training for going into outer space and the effects or isolation and extreme environments on humans working together.”

“It really could be a university wide game changer once it’s up and running,” he says.

Patterson and Helmuth joined Cousteau at potential underwater station sites in Curacao at the end of April, completing nine dives at eight sites. Curacao was picked as a location because it is out of the path of seasonal hurricanes and has the support of the island government.

headshot of Mark Patterson headshot of Brian Helmuth

Northeastern University professors of marine and environmental sciences Mark Patterson and Brian Helmuth. Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University and Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

The requirements for the final site require that it be ecologically interesting, not harm coral reefs in its construction, be safe for divers and allow construction at the right depth, Helmuth says.

Cousteau’s vision is to house 24 aquanauts at a time at a depth of up to 60 feet. Anything deeper would require the use of a specialized mixed gas instead of standard air for breathing, Helmuth says.

Unlike a sealed pressurized system such as a submarine, the pressure inside and outside the underwater station will be equal—which means the aquanauts can scuba dive outside for eight or more hours a day without having to take a break to decompress.

Read full story at Northeastern Global News

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering