Connect with us


Why a USF researcher is living 30 feet underwater

Mark Parker



USF professor Joseph Dituri has lived underwater for 10 days, as part of a 100-day research mission. Screengrab, YouTube.

Dr. Joseph Dituri believes the ocean holds the answers to society’s most pressing questions – so he decided to conduct some in-depth research right at the source.

Dituri is an associate professor at the University of South Florida. While he usually resides in Tampa, Dr. Deep Sea – his social media moniker – is now attempting to break a world record by living underwater for 100 days.

If all goes according to plan, a 100-square-foot habitat 30 feet below the surface at Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo will serve as Dituri’s home for the next 89 days. Despite poor phone reception, he said life underwater is going “swimmingly” thus far.

“Everything we need is on this planet,” Dituri said. “There’s a yin and yang. We just have to find it, right?”

While he began living at “Undersea Lodge” March 1, what Dituri is undertaking is no vacation. He is studying how the human body responds to long-term extreme pressure exposure in a confined space – the mental and physical toll.

His 100-day mission also includes several other ground-breaking research initiatives, and he will still teach a biomedical engineering class online in May. Presumably, Dituri will communicate with students through “sea mail.”

Dituri is also a former U.S. Navy diving officer, and studies how hyperbaric medicine can treat traumatic brain injuries. Photo courtesy of USF.

James Cameron and deep-sea cures

There is a reason why what Dituri hopes to accomplish sounds rooted in science fiction.

He began working with James Cameron, one of the film genre’s most innovative directors and an acclaimed sea explorer, in 2012. Cameron became the first to complete a 35,000-foot solo descent to the Mariana Trench’s bottom in the Deepsea Challenger submersible.

Dituri relayed that researchers plucked sea lice from the deepest recess of the Earth’s oceans for research. The eureka moment came Dec. 12, 2012, which Dituri said he remembers “like it was yesterday.”

“They pulled the DNA out of that, and it was a partial cure for Alzheimer’s,” he explained. “You just have to look in the place that you haven’t looked. So I said, ‘alright, we just got to start looking in the ocean for stuff.’

“That was when I was like, ‘okay, I think we can do this. I think we can live in the ocean.’ And that was the whole impetus for this.”

Mission Goals

Dituri, 55, is not alone during his stay beneath the surface. Medical teams routinely dive down to conduct a series of exams, and psychologists and psychiatrists document the mental toll of living in an isolated, confined environment – similar to space travel – for extended periods.

He noted the mission has three overarching goals. The first is to increase STEM (science, technology engineering and math) outreach and show kids that “math is the way of the future.”

Dituri believes that highlighting the marine environment will underscore that scientists “do cool things.” The second aspect is bringing along other researchers to conduct various studies.

During the call, a microbiologist visited Dituri’s habitat, and he said the two swam out of the facility to collect and study seafloor samples. “When you look at things in a microscope while you’re under pressure, holy mackerel, things change,” he added.

Dr. Deep Sea also remains in contact with “famous” hyperbaric scientists to discuss protecting, preserving and rejuvenating the human body in a marine environment.

Dituri will undergo a series of mental and physical test during and after his mission. Photo: LinkedIn.

However, Dituri’s focused on biomedical engineering and discovering the physical changes incurred by living in a warm, moist and dark environment. He said the reason is, “we’re going to Mars,” which will take six months – at best.

“You’re going to be in a tin can, just like the tin can I’m in, for six months,” Dituri explained. “So, we got to figure out some of the visual acuity stuff, some of the ear infection stuff and some of the isolated, confined and extreme environment stuff before we get in that capsule and go to Mars.”

Dituri served as a saturation diving officer in the U.S. Navy for 28 years. After retiring as a commander in 2012, and following his work with Cameron, he enrolled in a USF doctoral program to study traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

He noted a preponderance of TBI in servicemembers, frequently caused by concussive blasts. Dituri’s center in Tampa explores using hyperbaric medicine to treat those injuries and said he and his team “are doing a pretty good job” on the parallel exploration research.

In addition, Dituri is testing an experimental artificial intelligence tool developed for NASA that screens the body for illnesses and determines the best treatments.

He guaranteed his focal point would change after his stint underwater, as he could only see 13 feet ahead. A series of doctors will continue monitoring his mental and physical health once he emerges from the ocean and examine how the journey impacted his body.

The USF release notes that Dituri is advancing conclusions from a University of Wisconsin study that suggested increased pressure could potentially increase longevity and prevent age-related diseases. While much attention has focused on the 73-day world record, he said people who focus on his length of stay are missing the point.

“I don’t care about the record,” said Dituri. “What I care about is that we learn to colonize the ocean. That we learn to live in the ocean because that is the end all, be all. You have to live there for a few months before you learn who’s who in the zoo.”



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By posting a comment, I have read, understand and agree to the Posting Guidelines.

The St. Pete Catalyst

The Catalyst honors its name by aggregating & curating the sparks that propel the St Pete engine.  It is a modern news platform, powered by community sourced content and augmented with directed coverage.  Bring your news, your perspective and your spark to the St Pete Catalyst and take your seat at the table.

Email us:

Subscribe for Free

Share with friend

Enter the details of the person you want to share this article with.