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July 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Blubber For SEALs and Penguin Feathers

from the July, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Carrying out missions in Arctic waters of less than 50°F (10°C), U .S . Navy SEALs needed a wetsuit that would enable them to survive underwater longer than they now can . The Defense Department and MIT researchers came up with a radical new system emulating the blubber of seals and combining the pockets of air trapped in the feathers of penguins . They developed a simple coating for existing wetsuits that can triple the survival time for the diver wearing them .

The process involves placing the thick neoprene wetsuit inside a pressure chamber with a heavy inert gas (xenon or krypton) for 20 hours, which displaces the trapped air in the integral bubbles of neoprene . It results in a wetsuit with the lowest heat transfer of any wetsuit made, but after treatment, it must be kept in a sealed bag until it is used and retreated again for further use .

The next step is to find some way to make a longterm, stable version of the neoprene, perhaps by bonding a protective layer over it . Someday, perhaps, it will be available to sport divers -- certainly a welcome addition to warm diving .

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