Wednesday, November 5, 2014

a VERY brief visit to Hong Kong

'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael Lombardi
As I made my way through airport security in Boston, a few things hit me. First, it dawned on me that I’ve barely recovered from the lengthy travel during the recent #exosuitproject at #Antikythera in Greece. Second was that for some reason, the travel process was smoother than ever – perhaps a function of both routine and repetitive recent experience, but also that the entire airport experience did seem to smooth itself out. Security was almost too efficient, leaving me shoeless, beltless, and somewhat a disheveled mess as I was shuffled through in what seemed to be hyperspeed.

Nevertheless, the connection through JFK was equally smooth, and so I was on my way to Hong Kong via a 16 hour non-stop journey. I ate well, slept well, was relatively well entertained with a few movies, did more catch-up office work than I had in weeks, and so there I was – the international business traveler. I guess this is how they all do it, and how I now have to do it while riding in the wake of kids, a house, a fulltime job, and still trying to live the dream one day at a time.

I was invited to Hong Kong by Dr. Leo Chan of the State Key Laboratory for Marine Pollution at the City University of Hong Kong. His students greeted me at the airport, and helped me get settled in for the night at the University. While jet lagged, the hospitality was warmly welcomed, and that persisted throughout my short visit...I am looking forward to developing future collaborations here in Hong Kong.
Seafood - this is what it's all about in Hong Kong. Photo by M. Lombardi 2014.
The visit was a bit of a brief information exchange, where I presented a lecture about advanced and deep scientific diving, focusing on our recent work with the Exosuit, and Dr. Chan shared his work in marine pollution, particularly as it applies to human health and sustainable seafood. I’ve always been particularly attracted to science and scientists that can well communicate how their work comes full circle to ultimately improve our quality of life. The work here at CityU does all of that, and is on the verge of a taking a new bold step in a leadership role in scientific diving, and at a national scale. The critical importance of placing the human within the environment to interpret that space and formulate new scientific inquiry is well appreciated in Hong Kong, and is emerging in China, and a direction that I’m eager to support however possible.

While a whirlwind visit, I was able to take a brief stroll through downtown Hong Kong. It’s a busy place, and struck me as analogous to New York City. Lots of people, lots of lights, and lots of action. We walked through ‘occupy Hong Kong’, the local movement that the US nightly news has portrayed as a hot zone for violence in recent months. In my opinion, while yes, the people participating in the movement have taken a strong stand, it is not unlike protests back in the US and elsewhere - the violence is certainly not sought after. Things can and have escalated, but again, not unlike similar demonstrations back at home.

Hong Kong also struck me as a very ‘vertical’ city. They build up, and in a big way. Interestingly, the population center of Honk Kong only accounts for 30% of the city’s land area. The balance 70% is protected habitat. That is truly amazing, and speaks to the commitment to the environment and appreciation for the value of its natural resources.

Also somewhat striking is the apparent ambition of the people at the University. Those few I interacted with are hungry to succeed, and it seems to me that the government puts resources in place to foster that success. That is a very encouraging model to see, and stark contract to other places I’ve visited.

Next stop Xiamen for a few days, then the return journey home, only for a quick turn around for some field time in New York. What a run…

The author would like to acknowledge the City University of Hong Kong and the J.F. White Contracting Company for making this visit possible; and the generosity of Dr. Leo Chan throughout the visit.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

'Falling' in at Ft. Wetherill

'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael LombardiHaving more completely off-gassed from the three week #Antikythera #exosuitproject in Greece, I felt I had a much needed obligation to realign myself with a quick dive here at home. With kids in the mix, that means a constant shuffle to do anything much 'fun' for yourself, so I made a very early start (everyone still sleeping) and got to Ft. Wetherill in Jamestown, Rhode Island before sunrise.

Fall had clearly set in..the morning air was crisp, and I could see a wintry sky out there on the horizon as the sun just started to creep up. Conditions were suboptimal, with wind blowing into both coves, so there was a bit of a washing machine happening. I knew visibility would be poor, nevertheless I pulled up my wetsuit, which alone was a refreshing reminder of why I love what I do. The familiar smell of musty neoprene first thing in the morning is one of those subtleties that only us living the life aquatic can truly appreciate.

I managed to get geared up and in the water before the sun was up, so coupled with the churned up bottom, it may as well have been a night dive. I swam out into thirty or so feet of water, found a bit of a rock ledge to nestle myself up to and shut off the lights. The rock walls were silhouetted nicely against the moonlight backdrop. There I just waited patiently for the sun to rise fully and observed the benthos come to life. Truly spectacular.

It's a rare occasion that I get out there for a 'fun' dive, but as life gets progressively more complicated, I've found that its necessary to make a splash every now again, even a short and sweet one, to find a renewed appreciation for why it is that we do what we find solace in our relationship with our Blue Planet, and consider our future with 'a New Life in the Sea'.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Home sweet home | #exosuitproject returns from #antikythera

'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael LombardiWow, what a stretch - despite Greece being a new work locale for me, the start of the 'Return to Antikythera' expedition set in as old hat. As these things go, challenges are defined, solutions are identified, and then it comes down to putting together all the pieces with a degree of flexibility to meet the challenges.

Despite all the flag waving and publicity that the project managed to muster, particularly with the excitement of the Exosuit making its debut work performance for science, for me the most important element of the project was appreciating the depth of national pride that this effort brought to the country of Greece and its people.

The Greek Navy, who we worked very closely with aboard the vessel 'Thetis' to stage the Exosuit operation, met us with a warm welcome, and were so very proud to be engaged in this technical demonstration. As I later learned, there is a bit of a rivalry with their neighboring Turkish Navy, who operates a Hardsuit program for deep water tasks. Being able to supervise Fotis Lazarou's (Greek Navy Diver) Exosuit dive, which was the deepest made at the Antikythera site, was in my opinion one of the proudest moments of the project. This was also a challenge - I trained Lazarou on the suit at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the spring, and evident at that time was the challenge of working through language barriers with technical information. The enthusiasm of the Greek team pushed it all through however, and we both worked together to communicate through these barriers and make it all happen. In the end, the common language of the life aquatic - depth, time, pressure - became readily understood out of shear necessity.

A few project press links:

What's next? Well, several exciting finds were made at the research site including an array of Bronze age artifacts which substantiate further excavation as it is clearly evident that high value antiquities remain concealed at the site. What remains a challenge is realizing the massive amount of time at depth to carry out a careful excavation across the full scale of the wreck site - which is now believed to be significantly larger than previously documented.

While weather severely limited the extent of Exosuit operations this year, I think the entire team is convinced that this remains the safest means to be productive over lengthy blocks of time at the study site. Future work with the Exosuit at Antikythera is certainly on the horizon, and will remain a topic for discussion over the coming months.

The 'Return to Antikythera' project was jointly organized by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The author acknowledges the J.F. White Contracting Company for their forward looking investment into making the Exosuit ADS available for scientific programs, and for Hublot, the Swiss watchmaker, for sponsoring the Exosuit operation at Antikythera.

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