by Susannah Abbey
Before the naturalist and explorer, William Beebe, and inventor Otis Barton made their foray into the deep in the spherical submarine called the "bathysphere," exploring the sea was a dangerous and awkward process. There are artists' renderings of bizarre creatures with human bodies and bottle-shaped heads from which rubbery hoses rose like misplaced elephants' trunks, stretching upward beyond the water's surface in order to connect the air-breathing biped to its only source of oxygen. The effect was rather eerie, and provided the diver with a limited range and capacity for movement.
The bathysphere itself was not perfect; the type of submersible that could carry its own oxygen supply had not yet been invented. But this device, invented by Otis Barton specifically for William Beebe, was an important intermediary step in the advancement of underwater exploration and would enable Beebe to make his most important expedition, the one that would make the 57-year-old naturalist famous throughout the world.
Beebe had been working for the New York Zoological Society, travelling and studying animal life in the Galapagos Islands. He loved the sea animals and knew that the many species on the islands were but a portion of what he could find under the waves. The technology of the time, however, did not allow for deep sea exploration. He needed a way to dive without the correlated problems of having enough oxygen for a long submersion and also without the problems of enduring water pressure at the great depths he wished to explore. He announced his need and invited scientists to come up with some new technology. Many inventors wrote to him, offering ideas for various weird devices with which to dive. Finally, one device, presented by inventor Otis Barton, appeared to be the most useful and sound.
Barton's concept was a spherical submersible, which he called the Bathysphere. It was this contraption that allowed Beebe to make his famous dive off the Bermuda Islands, in which he set a record by diving 3,028 feet. This was deeper than anyone before him. His expeditions, and the writings he left behind, have inspired generations of explorers.
Page created on 7/20/2004 9:54:16 AM
Last edited 1/6/2017 5:31:32 PM
- contains lots of pictures and information about the life of this incredible scientist.
A Dark and Luminous Blue
- Half Mile Down, 1934 - by William Beebe
The SeaWiFs Project
- Studying the Sea from Space! A cool site where you can make your own map of the Earth.
Alone on the Ice
- The Web site of WGBH's "The American Experience" series.
William Beebe is the author of many books about his travels and studies of nature:
A Monograph of the Pheasants
Galapagos - World's End
Beneath Tropic Seas
Pheasants: Their Lives And Homes
A Monograph Of The Pheasants
His writing has also appeared in:
Ocean Planet: Writings and Images of the Sea