However, next year, a daring and innovative new project is seeking to change all that.
Sea Orbiter, referred to be some as the “starship Enterprise for the water” will be a new type of ocean-going research vessel, a moving laboratory that will hopefully allow Human scientists better access to the world's oceans than ever before.
Designed by French architect Jaques Rougerie, Sea Orbiter will allow scientists to study everything from underwater archaeological sites to the migration patterns of marine life. It is also expected to extensively map the ocean floors beneath it and to allow divers to work continually on deeper dives than ever before.
Diving to a depth greater than 50 meters or so can cause decompression illness (DCI) and the only way to traverse this obstacle is via saturation diving, which involves prolonged immersion in hyperbaric pressure chambers. Aboard the Sea Orbiter, however, the entire bottom deck will feature hyperbaric pressure levels so that divers can regularly dive to greater depths, but still enjoy a comfortable standard of living when out of the water.
Theoretically, this means that divers will be able to reach depths of up to 100 metres, day after day, simply by remaining in Sea Orbiter's bottom deck. Also, because the researchers will be diving via a special bay on the underside of the craft, they will be unencumbered by obstacles like bad weather and lack of daylight. In fact, due to this advancement, Sea Orbiter is expected to give researchers unprecedented access to as-yet unknown deep-sea creatures that are only observable at night.
Technology wise, the design appears to have been influenced by the International Space Station (ISS), another innovative project that allowed researchers to reside in their chosen location for long periods of time, something that is always a great boon to scientific research.
Sea Orbiter will also boast mini, remote-operated submarines, as well as a manned submersible capable of reaching depths up to 1,000 metres and an unmanned drone that will be capable of venturing an astonishing 6,000 metres below sea level.
The design of the craft itself is also equally innovative; in fact, the word genius could be applied with little/no hyperbole present. Basically, the craft's tall, conical shape will render it almost impossible to tip, allowing Sea Orbiter to brave even the most violent ocean storm and emerge unscathed.
In fact, Sea Orbiter is far more stable than most other seafaring vessels. The saucer section in the middle of the craft, and the keel directly below it, are both far denser than seawater itself, which would normally be enough for it to sink like a stone, however, the upper portion of the vessel is designed to be exceptionally buoyant and will only be fashioned from the lightest possible materials, meaning that although two thirds of Sea Orbiter will be perpetually submerged, the vessel itself should never actually capsize or sink.
If Sea Orbiter is successful, this design is expected to become the model for a great many future ships.
Solar and wind power will keep Sea Orbiter's engines running, with biofuel on standby for use as needed. This means that Sea Orbiter will be one of the greenest post-industrial vessels ever to sail the oceans of the world and, once again, could become a valuable prototype for the oceangoing vessels of the future.
Heavily influenced by the works of Jules Verne and the pioneering naturalist work of filmmaker and explorer Jaques Cousteau, Jaques Rougerie has designed underwater environments for much of his career, even participating in a World Record setting 71-day stint under water. His work to date has included sub aquatic museums and laboratories and glass bottom research vessels.
He has also created workable designs for underwater habitats such as houses and even entire villages.
Construction of the Sea Orbiter is expected to be completed by 2016, but the project's success still hinges on funding. To date, the French government has provided most of the development money, but the project has also been backed by numerous corporate sponsors and even a public crowd-funding campaign.
If Sea Orbiter's initial mission is successful, Rougerie and his team are planning to build an entire fleet of Sea Orbiters, which could potentially make their collective task the most comprehensive study of the Earth's oceans that has ever been undertaken.