Do you wear a wetsuit in winter? Then check this out.
Ocean lovers of the Gold Coast don’t need to think about wetsuits too much. But if you want to get that wave this winter without feeling the cold, then the wetsuit of the future may be just what you are looking for.
We here on the Goldie are lucky, our waters are warm pretty much all year round. But there are other places where the oceans aren’t as welcoming.
Damn It’s Cold
Diving in icy water is extremely dangerous to humans. Within seconds, arteries tighten, blood pressure and heart rate race, and lungs gasp for air. After only minutes, hyperventilation strikes and arms and legs go numb. This is the onset of hypothermia.
Over in the USA, the Navy is trying to develop ways that let divers to stay under freezing waters for longer. They want a wetsuit to work like animal blubber. And they may have cracked it.
What the scientists have come up with is a wetsuit infused with an artificial blubber layer. This layer can triple the endurance time of divers in frozen waters. If this wetsuit can help divers last longer in icy oceans, then think about what it could do for you in the mild Pacific Ocean in our winter.
Boffins to the Rescue
The two professors working on the wetsuit are Dr Michael Strano and Dr Jacopo Buongiorno. Their focus is on a material called neoprene. Neoprene is the most common material used to make wetsuits. It is a synthetic rubber resembling a thick foam with numerous air pockets. These pockets slow the transfer of heat from the body into the surrounding cold water.
Strano and Buongiorno found that by substituting air with gasses, they created a more efficient, artificial blubber layer within the wetsuit. The gases they used in the wetsuit are non-toxic, don’t have negative chemical reactions, and don’t burn or explode. Using this suit, the diver’s tolerance went from one hour in freezing waters, to multiple hours.
Strano and Buongiorno placed a neoprene wetsuit in a sealed, specially-designed tank the size of a beer keg. They then pumped the container with the gasses for several hours. Laboratory tests showed the newly-pressurised wetsuit kept its insulating properties for over 20 hours after treatment. This is far longer than divers usually spend in frigid waters. The treatment also could be done in advance of a dive, with the wetsuit placed in a bag to be opened just before use. In such cases, the 20-hour countdown didn’t start until the suit was removed from the bag.
New Wetsuit? Nah.
“The great thing about this research is that you don’t have to recreate neoprene from scratch,” said Strano. “You can take an existing wetsuit from a closet, pump the gas into it and transform it into a super fabric.” While their laboratory tests and simulations have been successful, Strano and Buongiorno hope to test the wetsuit further during in-water demonstrations involving Navy and civilian divers. So watch this space, July-swimming enthusiasts.
Editor for Silver Magazine Gold Coast