Preparing to Find Deep-Sea Creatures that Glow

Video and text by JOANNA DETZ and FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

WOODS HOLE, Mass. — The first scientific expedition using the Exosuit will take place in mid-July about 100 nautical miles off the Rhode Island coast, where the five-day mission will investigate depths up to 1,000 feet — 10 times the conventional depth of scuba — to observe, image and collect bioluminescent organisms that may provide critical information in advancing the field of neuroscience and related biomedical imaging.

Rhode Island resident Michael Lombardi is the project coordinator of the Exosuit ADS Stephen J. Barlow Bluewater Expedition. Training operations were held in late May at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The Exosuit is the next generation atmospheric diving system (ADS), and was designed and built by Nuytco Research Ltd. in North Vancouver, Canada. The Exosuit keeps the pilot at surface pressure, eliminating the physiological hazards associated with deep diving. The first million-dollar suit was recently bought by the J.F. White Contracting Co., a civil engineering firm in Framingham, which has reached out and engaged partners at the John B. Pierce Laboratory at Yale University and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to carry out this inaugural mission.

Lombardi, the diving safety officer for the American Museum of Natural History, and a special projects consultant for J.F. White Contracting, is no stranger to the deep — his recent work, funded by multiple awards from the National Geographic Society, has taken scientific diving to depths exceeding 400 feet. This work has resulted in numerous discoveries, including a new species of fish, Derilissus lombardii, that is now archived at the American Museum of Natural History.

“Working in a new frontier exposes tremendous potential for humanity,” Lombardi  said. “The fact that we can acquire vast amounts of new knowledge in just minutes of exploration is all the justification we should need to scale-up a renewed human presence in our oceans.”