Underwater research


Flooded caves in Mexico, shipwrecks in the Baltic Sea, and sunken islands in the Plön Lake District – each of these research topics is part of Florian Huber’s PhD project.

Florian is archaeologist, scientific diver and associated member of the Graduate School.

Florian Huber examining an ancient vessel in the caves of Yucatán. (Kunz)

“For my thesis, I concentrate on two main foci: safety and efficiency of underwater research”, he states and adds an example:”Because the usual compressed air is not suitable for all situations that scientific divers might face, we have experimented with different gas mixtures.” When investigating wrecks in the Baltic Sea, most of the work is done at a depth of around 25 m. While the conventional cylinder full of air allows a stay under water of about 20 minutes at the mentioned level, now this can nearly be doubled using Nitrox, a mix containing more oxygen and less nitrogen. For deeper diving, Florian and his team tested Trimix, consisting of helium to a greater part. “We found out that it works fine and allows us to dive up to 70 m deep.”

Speaking of time and depth, it is essential for divers to efficiently use the minutes their compressed gas supply allows them to stay under water. Florian explains: “In the labyrinth of Mexican caves, there are often long corridors to swim through until sites of archaeological interest are reached. Once I am there, I want to produce as many scientific results and observations as possible in the remaining time.” As traditional methods like measuring, sketching, and listing of finds are time-consuming, Florian and his team try out new methods.

3D reconstruction of the vessel. (Huber)

“During the last field campaign in Yucatán, we took many photos of archaeological sites. With special software, they can be converted into 3D images”, Florian states. Though not new, this procedure has rarely been applied to underwater archaeology. Factors like the refraction of light by water or suspended particles have to be considered. “We cooperate with experts at Kiel University’s Department of Computer Science and at the Leibniz Institute for Marine Sciences to get the best results out of pictures and software”, says Florian. He plans to finish his thesis in 2012.

Text by Jirka Niklas Menke, Photo by Kunz, Animation by Huber