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An underwater lab that goes with the flow

Author Daniel Wroclawski Illustration James Provost

IT MAY LOOK LIKE SOMETHING FROM OUTER SPACE, but French architect Jacques Rougerie’s newest project is focused on that other final frontier: the ocean. SeaOrbiter, a 100-percent-sustainable marine science lab that drifts with the currents, is designed to allow scientists—dubbed “aquanauts”—to live beneath the surface of the sea 24 hours a day as they conduct research into environmental concerns such as global warming and ocean acidification. (Bonus: Because of the lab’s similarity to a spacecraft, it will also be used as a training module for astronauts.) Slated to begin construction this month, the $50 million-plus SeaOrbiter is Rougerie’s most ambitious project to date. Here’s how he’ll do it.

1. Vertical wind turbines, solar panels and a system for harnessing the energy of waves will generate electricity and store it in batteries, giving SeaOrbiter a power source that’s not only sustainable, but also nearly silent (thus helping the aquanauts avoid disrupting the ecosystems they’re studying).

2. Living quarters located 40 feet below the ocean’s surface will function as a hyperbaric chamber by matching the pressure of the outside environment. This will help ward off decompression sickness in the aquanauts, who will dive frequently from a connected diving platform.

3. Though SeaOrbiter will have the ability to propel itself, for the most part it will drift, making it more like a natural refuge for sea life than a traditional boat. Scientists expect that this will attract marine animals for miles in every direction, multiplying the aquanauts’ research opportunities.

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