Crack cave divers from around the continent have gathered in Bell Island, Newfoundland for a new expedition tasked with a flooded iron mine abandoned since the mid-1960’s. In what has been dubbed the “Expedition of the Year” by the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, dive researchers and scientists will study decompression sickness in high-stress conditions, environmentally-triggered epigentic modifiers and submerged bacterial mats. The Explorers Club is lending their name as well, deeming the effort a “flag expedition.”
The potential hazards are immense. Debris must be cleared from the entrance for divers to access to the hundreds of kilometers of tunnels reaching underneath Bell Island and the surrounding waters (though they are likely to only explore a few kilometers at most.) Once inside, the divers will face blackout conditions, thick blinding sediment, abandoned mining equipment and other unknown dangers. It’s worth noting that retreating workers will oftentimes salvage key support structures as they abandon a mine; leaving behind unsecured pillars and ceilings.
The mine claimed a life previously. In 2007, American diver Joe Steffen (51) was discovered floating at the ceiling of a submerged tunnel. All attempts to revive the diver were unsuccessful; the autopsy revealed that he had succumbed to an air embolism, a gas bubble in the bloodstream potentially formed when a diver ascends (and decompresses) too quickly.
Only time will tell if mine diving will become the next wave in scuba adventure sports, but in the meantime ExpeditionWriter wishes every member of the Mine Quest team happy exploring and a safe return to the surface!
The Bell Island Mine Quest expedition is scheduled to begin February 15, 2016.