Diving bell

From Academic Kids

A diving bell is a cable suspended watertight chamber, open at the bottom, that is lowered underwater to operate as a base or a means of transport for a small number of divers. Unlike a submarine it is not designed to move under the control of its occupants, nor to operate independently of its tether.

Diving bells are used as underwater rescue vessels and by working divers doing underwater work and salvage. The bell is lowered into the water by cables from a crane attached to a ship or dock. The bell is ballasted so as to remain upright in the water and to be negatively buoyant so that it sinks even when completely full of air.

Hoses, fed by pumps on the surface, provide compressed breathing gas to the bell, serving two functions:

  • Fresh gas is available for breathing by the occupants. Exhaled gas is expelled under the lip of the wet bell, where it rises naturally to the surface.
  • As a wet bell is lowered, the extra pressure from the water compresses the gas in the bell. If the gas pressure inside the bell were not raised to the outside water pressure, the bell would partially fill with water. Adding compressed gas ensures that the usable workspace within the bell remains constant as the bell descends in the water.

A similar principle to that of the wet bell is used in the diving helmet of standard diving dress, where compressed air is provided to a helmet carried on the diver's shoulders. Additional weights are carried on the waist and feet to prevent overturning. The modern equivalent of this diving equipment is used in surface supplied diving.

The diving bell is one of the earliest types of equipment for underwater work and exploration. Its use was described by Aristotle in the 4th century BC. In 1535, Guglielmo de Loreno created and used what is considered to be the first modern diving bell.

The earliest applications were probably for commercial sponge fishing. A diving bell was used to salvage cannon from the Swedish warship Vasa in the period immediately following its sinking in 1628.

A further extension of the wet bell concept is the underwater habitat, where divers may spend long periods in dry comfort while aclimated to the increased pressure experienced underwater. By not needing to return to the surface they can avoid the necessity for decompression (gradual reduction of pressure), required to avoid problems with nitrogen bubbles releasing from the bloodstream (the bends, also known as caisson disease). Such problems occur at a pressure over two atmospheres, experienced below a depth of 32 feet. By not requiring a pressure resistant structure the habitat can be constructed at lower cost.

Simple wet diving bells have been largely replaced now with more sophisticated diving chambers (sometimes erroneously called diving bells) which may resist underwater pressures and which are for use in underwater work involving saturation diving and submarine rescue operations. These may comprise a single chamber designed for attachment to a submarine's rescue hatch, or may be composed of two sealed chambers, an upper chamber at normal or greater atmospheric pressure and an entrance lock. These often carry large diving cylinders to provide emergency breathing gas supplies and can be used as a base for surface supplied diving operations.

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