There are a great number of things we have been doing over the past months to get ready for our upcoming expedition to Palmer Station, Antarctica. As you'll read in our future journal entries, diving is an important part of our work there and we spend a lot of our efforts there on diving, preparing to dive and processing the organisms we collect. But we have already spent a lot of time preparing for diving here in Birmingham.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) requires some minimal qualifications for someone to be considered for Antarctic diving: One must have at least 50 total dives with at least 15 total dry suit dives. One must have had no fewer than 10 dry suit dives in the year proceeding deployment to Antarctica. And, significantly, the scientist's university Diving Safety Officer (DSO) must certify that the diver is qualified under the university's scientific diving program.
Since all of us in the group have many more than 50 total dives (for a few of us, several times more than that just in Antarctica) and we were diving in Antarctica on our last expedition in February through June 2003, none of those issues are a problem for us this year. But we are still required to maintain our diving skills by making a minimum number of dives in any six month period.
Like most American educational institutions that use scuba diving in research, UAB follows the guidelines of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) thorough our affiliation with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL), which is a member of the Academy. So a big step in getting certified to dive in Antarctica is meeting the AAUS and any additional DISL requirements. In addition to many hours of additional scientific dive training past a basic recreational dive certification, regular physical exams, and a strict maintenance schedule for our equipment, we are required to maintain our skills by making scientific dives regularly. Fortunately, just a couple miles from my home in Pelham we have an absolutely wonderful dive training facility at Alabama Blue Water Adventures.
Alabama Blue Water Adventures is in a flooded rock quarry with a variety of dive friendly features. People come from all over the region to dive there. Wayne Atchison and his family own the business and Wayne has been a wonderful supporter of UAB scientific diving. I am truly grateful to Wayne for his assistance and always-friendly support of our Antarctic diving program. Alabama Blue Water Adventures is where we do the vast majority of our training dives. It has rock walls that mimic the topography we often encounter on our collecting dives in Antarctica and has spots that go deeper even than we need to maintain our 130 foot depth diving certification levels (130 feet is the deepest diving allowed in the US Antarctic Program).
As we do regularly throughout the year (when we aren't in Antarctica), just a couple weeks ago Maggie, Anne, Kevin, and I made our last training and gear checkout dives at the Blue Water quarry. All the gear checked out, and with the colder weather and water we were able to use almost all the thick undergarments we'll be diving with at Palmer. This makes it more realistic since the dry suits fit more like they do in the "really deep south" and we can wear the thick under-gloves we use in Antarctica. Really get a "feel for it" like we have there... And before I know it, I will be! I can't wait and am looking forward to sharing the experiences with all of you again this year via this web site.