Diving under the Ice

This year is my 13th diving deployment in Antarctica. It’s great to be on my second tour with B-195M, principal investigator Paul Cziko, and the McMurdo Oceanographic Observatory team at McMurdo Station.

I began recreational diving when I was 11 years old. I have worked in scientific diving for over 35 years, with many years as a Scientific Diving Instructor at UC Berkeley. I've logged thousands of dives. While there are lots of great sites in the world, the diving down here in McMurdo Sound is by far my favorite type of diving.

People often ask my why I love diving here–under the ceiling of ice in freezing seawater–so much. Well, here are my top reasons.

1) Doing work underwater is something I truly love! Doing work under ice is for me pretty much like a fetching-obsessed golden retriever chasing its favorite tennis ball. It’s something I have an endless appetite for. Here’s a image of me being extremely content while working at the McMurdo Oceanographic Observatory, below the sea ice near McMurdo Station, here in Antarctica:


2) No boats! My least favorite thing about SCUBA diving is boats! But, in most places on Earth diving revolves around boats. I believe the writer John D. McDonald is famous for saying that owning a boat is like standing in a cold shower while tearing up hundred dollar bills. And, cleaning up a boat after day of diving is even less fun than the cold shower. AND, many diving accidents happen when boats run over divers and make a bloody mess of some part of the poor diver's anatomy.

Here, in frozen McMurdo Sound, we have a nice solid ceiling of ice overhead. That means there are never any boats to deal with. Without boats, Antarctic ice diving here is the easiest diving in the world. We sit down at the edge of a hole or a crack in the sea ice then just enter that portal into a totally boat-free dive space.

What’s more, the ice protects us from surface weather, wave surge and ocean swells, and provides a calm space for science diving work.

Take a look at that lovely and wonderfully protective ceiling overhead, with light shining down through a seal hole:


3) The sights we see down below! I will let this photo collage speak for itself:


4) The people I get to work with! This year we are working with a great group of people. I love and trust the other divers here, like our diving supervisors Rob Robbins and Steve Rupp, who help us stay safe and keep the dive locker and gear more than perfectly ready for diving support. There are a gaggle of other terrific science grantees in the lab, plus many great folks who work for the support contractor that make our lives down here pretty easy.

Here is a photo collage of infrared portraits that I took of different folks working in McMurdo Station's science lab a few years ago:


5) Sharing with you folks at home. One of my several roles in our group is to share my underwater experiences here via our outreach. When I dive with my video camera in-hand, I become your eyes and ears under the ice, so that you can experience a little bit of this special part of the planet. Besides being a diver, I am also a professional musician who has recorded over 300 albums. The diving experience here fuels my musical creativity more than anything else in life, and the things that I see, hear, and experience down here have been the inspiration for many of my CDs. Check out this video of me on-stage at a conference in Mumbai, India, giving a presentation about my work down here:


Henry Kaiser

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