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In the wake of Rita, NURP Aquanauts forge new alliances to save U/W habitat
This story entered on 1st Nov, 2005 12:59:37 PM PST

Aquanauts (undersea habitat divers) and members of the U.S. Navy Seabees recently joined efforts to restore and stabilize the underwater habitat Aquarius following the wake of Hurricane Rita, and to prepare the habitat to withstand Hurricane Wilma. Aquarius is the world’s only undersea laboratory. Set in 60 feet of water off Key Largo, Florida, Aquarius is maintained and operated by NURP's National Undersea Research Center for the Southeastern U.S. and Gulf of Mexico at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

“As Hurricane Rita passed south of the Keys as a Category I Storm, its wave heights reached nearly 30 feet off Key Largo. Since Aquarius is sitting in 60 feet of water, a thirty-foot wave overhead created significant bottom surge; the type of surge that has been known to tear shipwrecks in two and scatter them hundreds of feet across the bottom of the ocean.” Said Craig Cooper, Operations Director for Aquarius, The surge and constant wind-driven currents from the east-southeast shifted Aquarius approximately ten feet, broke a pin to one of the legs, and threatened to tip the habitat over. Additionally, the hold-down anchors were pried from the seafloor, and exterior deck frames, battery pods, and other structures were damaged or torn loose.

A tiger team of U.S. Navy Seabee divers from Underwater Construction Teams (UCT) 1 and 2 and NOAA Aquanauts collaborated in the many tasks associated with stabilizing and restoring the underwater habitat in record time. Their efforts paid off -- Aquarius survived Hurricane Wilma without any damage, despite a direct hit on the Florida Keys. Lt. Cmdr. Tim Liberatore, UCT 2 Commanding Officer stated that “the UCT’s are perfectly suited for this type of work, stabilizing the Aquarius was a great opportunity to do real-world engineering on an underwater structure.”

Aquarius is a national asset that supports scientists, researchers, and even astronauts in their efforts to better understand the oceans, coastal resources, and the ability to conduct work operations in an austere and remote environment.

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Name: Felipe Arzayus
Tel: (301) 713-2427

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Updated: March 23, 2006