Mine Quest: The Science

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Robert Osborne

Making astronauts and scuba divers safer and decoding the mysteries of the human genome.  The kind of science
that’s taking place on the Mine Quest expedition is cutting edge and figuratively speaking, out of this world.

Dr. Neal Pollock, research director for the Divers Alert Network and scientist at the Center for Environmental Physiology and Hyperbaric Medicine at Duke University Medical Center wants to close the gap between the theory and reality behind decompression sickness.  He says that much of the information on decompression provided to divers and astronauts is based on theoretical modeling.  While theory is important, human testing is incomplete, and theory does not include many variables that can affect individual risk.

His team will use ultrasound on Mine Quest divers to track the presence of microbubbles in their hearts—indicators
of decompression stress.  They will monitor the divers closely after each dive to determine if and when microbubbles appear and progress.  They will also collect blood samples to assess other measures of decompression stress to compare with the bubble data. Studying divers in the field is important since “they’re diving profiles that are difficult to produce in the lab.”  The Mine Quest team will provide an opportunity to study decompression stress over repeated days of repetitive, cold-water diving.

The results will benefit divers and other who experience decompression stress, including astronauts who decompress to complete spacewalks.

The second experiment isn’t concerned so much with outer space, as it is inner space. Dr. Dawn Kernagis of the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Florida, will be looking at whether and how stress can actually
re-program humans at a genetic level.

They’re called epigenetic changes and science is only just starting to realize that such a change is possible.  Prior to now the conventional wisdom was that our genetic code was fixed.  Not so, according to Kernagis.  She says a number of factors, including stress, can bring on changes to our very genetic make up.  She’ll be having blood drawn from the divers before and after they dive that will enable her to look for micro particles that develop in response the stress.  Based on the appearance of those markers Kernagis can conduct further work to see whether that results in a corresponding change at a genetic level.

Her work could have enormous implications for such afflictions as childhood obesity and elder diabetes.
Dr. Kernagis’ work is currently being partly supported by the U.S. government.

If it was easy, everyone would be doing it!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Our project has had a bit of a setback this morning. Newfoundland has been experiencing record breaking rainfall and with unseasonal warmth, all the winter snow melted. The flood of water submerged some of the infrastructure in our dive staging area and meant final installation of our floating dock was not possible at the current water levels. Adjustments will be needed to improve the infrastructure, dock and staging area.

I’m having flashbacks to a project in 1995 in a deep canyon in the mountains of Central Mexico. We experienced mudslides that obliterated our camp and the cave resurgence we were exploring. We tried to build a dam to reroute the mud pouring into our cave. It seemed like a disaster. And yet, as we conspired to find way to deal with over 1000 feet of zero visibility, Dr. Bill Stone asked me to think much bigger. He said, “let’s find a way to map a cave we can’t even see.” That was the birth of the 3D Mapper. I was driving Dr. Stone’s mapper in Wakulla Springs a few years later. Great things come from adversity.

In the interim, mud and rain won’t slow down our expedition, but it does mean that we’ll be a little dirtier at the end of this. Hopefully water quality will improve as the rain abates. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

It’s all building a story where we triumph over difficulties!




Sabine Kerkau Recognized with DIWA Award

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Team member Sabine Kerkau was recently recognized with a DIWA Award (Diving Instructor World Association) at the Boot Show in Dusseldorf, Germany. The award recognizes her work in exploration and diving journalism, most notably for feature stories on technical diving projects. Kerkau will be writing articles about the Bell Island project in her native German language for several media outlets in Europe.

Award of Explorers Club Flag #80

Saturday, February 6, 2016

While our team awaits the arrival of the Explorers Club flag, we have received some history associated with it. This notice has arrived ahead of our precious cargo! It is wonderful that some good friends and colleagues have shared this flag in the past, most notably Tim Taylor with whom I have worked on another Explorers Club flagged expedition.


Continue reading “Award of Explorers Club Flag #80”

Royal Canadian Geographical Society Joins Expedition

Thursday, February 4, 2016


The Royal Canadian Geographical Society will be partnering with the Bell Island Expedition and has recognized the project as their Expedition of the Year.

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society is dedicated to promoting and enhancing public awareness for Canadian geography, and to strengthening the bond between Canadians and their diverse and vast geographical heritage.

As one of Canada’s oldest and largest educational, non-profit organizations, the RCGS, and its iconic publication, Canadian Geographic, has been Canada’s most recognized voice for connecting Canadians with the land, culture and environment in which they live.

The Bell Island exploration team will be working closely with, Canadian Geographic Education in outreach initiatives. RCGS currently provides free geographic educational material and supports over 16,000 educator-members, with membership expanding each year.

The team is extremely honoured by the recognition and looks forward to working very closely with the RCGS in the coming year.


February 4th, 2016

Steve Lewis – Tech Diver Training

Royal Canadian Geographical Society




We have just heard from The Royal Canadian Geographical Society to learn that The Bell Island Expedition has been honored as their Expedition of the Year.

Of course, the entire team is extremely proud to have our project picked for this accolade, and for the opportunities it opens up to work with the RCGS to promote Canadian exploration, and education.

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society is dedicated to promoting and enhancing public awareness for Canadian geography, and to strengthening the bond between Canadians and their diverse and vast geographical heritage.

As one of Canada’s oldest and largest educational, non-profit organizations, the RCGS, and its iconic publication, Canadian Geographic, has been Canada’s most recognized voice for connecting Canadians with the land, culture and environment in which they live.

Sancon Commissioning Supports Bell Island Historical Society

Thursday, January 28, 2016


The expedition team wants to sincerely thank Sancon Commissioning for assisting in our upcoming project in Bell Island. Not every expense can be anticipated, and when we realized that we needed some funding to support the assistance offered from the Bell Island Historic Society (BIHS), exploration diver Cas Dobbin requested help from his employer Sancon Commissioning. They are obviously as proud of Cas and his hard work as we are, because they did not hesitate to offer financial support to BIHS.

This project is made possible through the support and volunteer efforts of so many people. Some are out in front and others are quietly assisting from afar. It is sometimes difficult to mention all the people that have volunteered – all the people that sent some food or worked an extra shift so their partner could participate, all the people that swung a hammer or offered warm clothing for the team. We are grateful to everyone for building a great project that will celebrate the important contributions that Bell Island’s residents have made to Canadian culture and history.

Carrying Explorers Club Flag

Friday, January 22, 2016


Today we learned that we have been granted the honor of carrying the flag of the Explorers Club on our project in Newfoundland. The Explorers Club flag represents an impressive history of courage and accomplishment and has been carried on hundreds of expeditions by Club members since 1918. To carry the Club flag is an honor and a privilege. It has flown at both poles, from the highest peaks of the greatest mountain ranges, traveled to the depths of the ocean, to the lunar surface, and outer space. A flag expedition must further the cause of exploration and field science.

The current flag was designed by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, one of the Club’s founding members. Between the red of courage and the blue of fidelity lies a broad white diagonal displaying the initials of the Club’s name and a compass rose, symbolizing the worldwide circle of the Club’s interests. The first members to carry the new flag were Clyde Fisher and Carvath Wells, who journeyed to Lapland in 1924 while leading an astronomy expedition for the American Museum of Natural History.

Today there are 202 numbered flags, each with its own history. Many of the older flags have been retired. A select handful of these retired flags are framed and displayed at headquarters in New York City, including the flags carried by Roy Chapman Andrews, Bob Bartlett, Thor Heyerdahl, and the miniature flag carried by the astronauts onboard Apollo 11.

The final report of the project will be archived at the Explorers Club and on www.Explorers.org.


Jan 26th, 2016

Steve LewisTech Diver Training

As the days tick down, preparations for Mine Quest are truly picking up speed. The process is somewhat mitigated because at least Newfoundland is not so remote that forgetting to pack some little but essential piece of hardware would probably not be a total disaster… not quite the same pressures as an expedition to jungle or the arctic; but pressure nevertheless.

The Explorers Club

Several great developments during the past few days. And one of the sweetest is that we got word that our team will be carrying an Explorers’ Club Flag.

These have been and continue to be part of the history of exploration. Explorers Club flags have been carried on hundreds of expeditions in the past 100 years, and represent one of the key principles of the Club’s mission: To engage in scientific exploration and share the results.

Explorers Club flags have been to both poles, to the highest peaks of the greatest mountain ranges, to the depths of the ocean, and to outer space. Now we get to take one for a trip to Bell Island, Newfoundland.

Also, the list of sponsors is growing… Our friends at Shearwater and Sub-Gravity are now supporting team members with products we know, trust, and are happy to depend on in the toughest conditions.

Sub-Gravity expedition grade gear  Shearwater Computer Products

Build it and They Will Come!

Sunday, January 17, 2016


The Bell Island volunteer brigade has been continuing the back breaking work of preparing the diving area for the expedition team. The staging area is about complete and floating dock is being measured and will be installed within the next couple weeks. Heavy Duty benches for different equipment configurations are complete. 12 huge picnic tables have been installed for briefings. The boardwalk over the wet area is nearing completion. The stairway has been adjusted to walk over pipes. We’re getting close!

This area where divers enter the water is called cross section 23 on Pipe Shaft and our staging area/benches is on pillar 22. The picnic table will in the Room on cross section 22.

“Build it and they will come” :-)



volunteers prepare surface staging area in Bell Island Mine

“And I would like to thank…”

Steve LewisTech Diver Training

In case you ever have to juggle “leadership”aspects of an underwater enterprise with many moving parts, and a whole bunch of so-called key personnel, each accomplished in their field. Here’s a secret tip to getting it off to a good start.

First and foremost, hope for quality support from the folks who really matter… the ones who do all the prep work for nothing more than the camaraderie, and a sandwich.

With that in place, the rest is a breeze.

As Jill Heinerth and I sit in the warm, coffee in hand, drawing up the framework of Mine Quest’s SOPs, a team of Golf cart for carrying supplies to water's edgefolks are working in the cool and damp putting the finishing touches to surface infrastructure in the mine. And from the pictures we seen, they have far exceeded expectations. I cannot imagine a better way to start a project, than to have these folks getting things ready for us.

Of course, it’s not all about Mine Quest. One of the project goals is to finally open Bell Island Mine as an adventure dive tourism destination, to complement and enhance the attraction of the four historic WWII shipwrecks resting a few hundred metres away on the bottom of Conception Bay South.

To be successful on that score, several pieces have to fit perfectly in place when we “go live” on February 15. However, thanks to the work of our support team, Bell Island Mine is starting to look like a really top-knotch dive destination!

Many thanks to all… but special gratitude to the folks wielding pickaxes, shovels, hammers and saws :

Ros Hurley, Jack Wood, Marcia and Mark McGowan, John Olivero, Nick Dawe, Kyle Morgan, Teresita and Des McCarthy, Ron Reid, and Bonnie and Tom Spracklin, Cecil Johnson, Holly Green, Debbie and Jillian Stanley, and others.

Diving Physiology Study Taking Shape

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Drs. Neal Pollock and Dawn Kernagis are setting up some exciting studies for the Bell Island Exploration Team. The information gathered from the dives will be added to Dr. Pollack’s extensive life’s work on decompression, thermal issues and human performance during repetitive dives.

The plan includes monitoring divers for bubbles in the heart post-dive with ultrasound readings taken at 20 minute intervals for two hours. It takes three to four minutes to complete each scan, so the divers will remain in the area under close watch throughout the sampling period. Pollock would also like to look for blood markers of decompression stress with standard blood draws. This would normally be one pre-dive and two (rarely three) post-dive on selected days. The volume taken is small, but there can be quite a few draws.

Dive team members will participate voluntarily in the study and should benefit from learning about the effectiveness of their personal decompression strategy.

In addition to the blood draws and ultrasound, subjects will participate in a 20 minute battery of physical fitness and status measures prior to the start of the study dives.

The team, although small, is diverse with a span of ages, both genders and a variety of fitness levels. Some participants will use external heating devices and others plan to soldier through with no additional heat provided for their dives.

Picks and Shovels Preparing Mine for Cave Divers

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


Rick Stanley reported in from the building projects in the mine late last night:

Another successful day with another 1/3 rd done with volunteers Mark and Marcia McGowan, Johnny Olivero, Nick Dawe and myself. Belle Islands Staff Volunteers Bonnie and Tom Spracklin and Teresita (Teddy) McCarthy all on hand.

We cleaned up big area where large picnic table will be going along with an area around the Rib 32’ for a gear set-up work bench and storage. We cleaned down walking area down the slope to the water’s muddy edge. We installed steel supports over a deep trench to attach our platform and for a gangway to floating dock. ( Docks and platforms yet to be built).

Lunch today was prepared by Marcia in the cafeteria of the mine….fantastic sandwiches cakes and cookies….and she’s coming again tomorrow with special chilly…..going to keep her on…and you should see her moving iron ore…the miners were turning over in their graves today…hahaha!

In the afternoon we continued working on bridge area and cleaning slopes… We edged the walkway with iron ore chunks and old Powerline posts that were nearby for safety to keep folks on track walking down slope. We cleaned away iron ore off old water pipes as they are artifacts and to have that nice line looking down the shaft to the water.

Good day had by all and tomorrow we work on lighting, diverting water running down slope and installing a water pump and hose for wash-down area. Also beautification will continue ;-