Dmitry Schiller, Head of the Russian Geographical Society’s Alexei Leonov Underwater Research Team
© From the personal archive

Schiller: Members of Russian Geographical Society’s diving team still have 11 seas to dive into

In early March, a group of Russian scuba divers reached a depth of 102 meters in the White Sea to test Russian-made breathing equipment. interviews Dmitry Schiller, Head of the Russian Geographical Society’s Alexei Leonov Underwater Research Team, on the details of this and other expeditions and on upcoming plans.

Mr. Schiller, could you please tell us about the "13 Russian Seas" project and its goal?

The project stipulates several tasks. First, we have plans to test Russian-made diving equipment and protective gear. The research community also sets a number of major objectives during preparations for every expedition. This includes cooperation with specialized physiologists from the Kirov Military Medical Academy to streamline decompression and decompression-free diving models in cold waters.

Is it true that the Russian Geographical Society's Underwater Research Team has already set several world diving records? Can you tell us about the most outstanding records?

We set five records to be exact. They include two very complicated records — a deep dive at the Pole of Cold in Yakutia where we braved surface temperatures of minus 65 degrees Celsius. We drove KAMAZ trucks to the Pole of Cold and dived to a depth of 59 meters in Lake Labynkyr. Very complicated preparatory work was conducted in a severe environment. The second (autonomous) expedition took place in the Antarctic. We sailed through Drake Passage aboard a 16-meter yacht, reached a preset diving site, accomplished our objectives and returned home. To me, all these expeditions were unique and more difficult than the rest. Most importantly, it was impossible to receive assistance during them.

On March 5, 2016, your team set an under-ice diving record in the White Sea. What depth did you reach? And how did you record this achievement?

I'd like to say that we do not dive just for records. Our scuba divers are merely working at record depths, and the records are filed accordingly. Our experts have to accomplish many objectives, and the World Confederation of Underwater Activities records any diving records.

What problems did you face during the dive?

Thank God, we were able to train at a base at the Arctic Research Center, and this allowed us to set this record very smoothly. We also worked at the Arctic Circle station with experts who know the specifics of our work. So everything was OK. The only thing we needed to understand is that we had to introduce multiple redundancy concepts for every life-support system, and not just the main systems.

How do you plan to introduce multiple redundancy concepts?

Today, it's standard practice for a scuba diver to carry two oxygen tanks and two independent breathing vents. In case of emergency, a diver can use a partner's reserve oxygen supply. It's extremely hard to do this in cold water which basically burns your lips, they become numb, and the regulator has to be thrust inside your mouth. So we're planning to duplicate these oxygen delivery systems.

According to the media, other divers stood by to help set the record. How did this happen?

We met the divers at a depth of 30 meters and took their spent tanks. There were also plans to help them in case of exposure and to replace the main decompression gases. Anything is possible at such temperatures so reserve divers are stationed at preset intervals.

How many divers are doing this all over the world?

This wouldn't have been a record if there were many divers doing it. No other scuba diver has reached such depths under the ice so far.

Why are you testing diving equipment under the ice? Does this research have any practical applications?

I'd like to stress that we dived under sea ice.Fresh water freezes at zero degrees Celsius, and sea water freezes at about minus three degrees Celsius. That's why the equipment has redundancy systems.

We're happy to be able to argue with the reputation that all Russian-made products are bad, and everything made abroad never breaks down. We want to set at least the first part of this straight. We use many apparatuses and mechanisms, and we are proud to have Russian made equipment.

What other expeditions are planned under the "13 Russian Seas" project?

We have sailed the Barents Sea and White Sea, and we still have 11 seas left. Of course, the northern seas are the most difficult in terms of logistics and preparations. We hope very much that the Federal Agency for Fishery will support us because its vessels are expected to operate there. We'd like to use their wonderful base and enlist the services of the agency's professional experts during the expedition.