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Scripps Institution of Oceanography & Scientific Diving Scripps Institution of Oceanography University of California, San Diego La Jolla, California Scientific Diving

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scripps institution of oceanography scientific diving

Scripps Institution of Oceanography & Scientific Diving

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

University of California, San Diego

La Jolla, California


Scientific Diving

“Scientific diving is diving performed solely as a necessary part of a scientific, research, or educational activity by employees whose sole purpose for diving is to perform scientific research tasks.”

As defined by OSHA regulations (29 CFR 1910.402)


Scientific Diving

  • The purpose of the project using scientific
  • diving is the advancement of science. The
  • tasks of a scientific diver are those of an
  • observer and data gatherer.
  • Scientific divers, based on the nature of their
  • activities, must use scientific expertise in
  • studying the underwater environment, and,
  • therefore are scientists, or scientists-in-
  • training.

Diving as a Research Tool

  • Scientific divers must be trained to use this
  • tool to a level of proficiency that allows them
  • to focus on the research task.
  • Most scientific institutions and universities
  • require extensive training and specialized
  • experience before authorizing their scientists
  • and research support staff to conduct
  • underwater research using scuba, hookah and
  • surface supplied diving.

The Pursuit of Science

  • Scientific diving differs from recreational diving
  • and commercial diving in many ways. The
  • advancement of science is the single goal.
  • For many recreational divers, the thrill of breathing
  • on scuba and enjoying the panoramic view of life
  • beneath the sea is in itself the end goal of learning
  • to dive.
  • Commercial divers are underwater construction
  • workers, builders and trouble shooters.

Scientific Diver Population

  • ~4,000 individuals in the U.S.
  • majority of long-term, career scientific divers (e.g.
  • federal employees, university professors) in the
  • 35+ average age category
  • high turnover of scientific divers at the university
  • student level (18–34 age category)
  • no upper age limit for certification, the lower limit
  • is generally 18 years of age


  • subtropical seas
  • temperate waters
  • freshwater rivers and lakes
  • karst formations
  • polar environments
  • blue water (open ocean)
  • submarine canyons
  • estuaries
  • offshore platforms

Heine, J.N. 1999. Scientific Diving Techniques: A Practical Guide for the Research Diver. Best Publishing, Flagstaff. 225 p.


Early Scientific Diving

The first recorded scientific dives were made by Henri Milne-Edward (Sicily) circa 1844 in a commercial diving suit to a depth of 25 ft.


C.K. Tseng

    • 1944
    • Chinese biologist
    • working at SIO
    • during WWII
    • Used Surface-Supplied
    • Japanese Heavy Gear to
    • study marine algae in
    • San Diego Bay
  • Frank Haymaker
    • 1947
    • Observation of Scripps Canyon using Hard Hat equipment for SIO
    • researcher, Dr. Francis Shepard

Conrad Limbaugh

Andreas Rechnitzer

SCUBA comes to Scripps


Diving at Scripps

  • Scripps was a branch of UCLA
  • Limbaugh convinced advisor that new Aqualung would be a
  • valuable tool.
  • Initially purchased 1 from Rene’s Sporting Goods and taught each
  • other how to dive.


  • In 1950, with a second set in tow, arrived at SIO thus initiating
  • Scripps diving.

Dive Training at Scripps

  • Initially pretty informal…
  • The training consisted more of a demonstration than training.
  • 1951, first official training course developed out of necessity
  • A diver at another UC campus died in a diving accident
  • Revelle, President of the UC, mandated more formalized
  • training.
  • Many of diving’s fundamental principles; Swim Tests, the
  • Buddy System, Buddy Breathing, and the “Ditch and Don”
  • were developed in this process.
  • 1952 first organized written syllabus was developed.

Scripps and LA County

  • In 1953, Al Tillman, Bev Morgan, and Ramsey Parks from LA
  • County Parks and Recreation participated in one of the early
  • courses.
  • Developed the first formal diving instruction and certification
  • program available to the public.
  • The LA County program became the basis for all future
  • recreational diving programs.
  • Limbaugh, Jim Stewart, and Wheeler North assisted the first LA
  • County Instructor courses.

Jim Stewart

  • Stewart was an accomplished free-
  • diver and member of the
  • Bottomscratchers.
  • In 1952 , Stewart became a volunteer
  • at SIO helping Limbaugh with diver
  • training.
  • In 1955, Stewart was hired part-time
  • to assist Dr. Wheeler North with kelp
  • forest research.
  • Participated in the first science
  • diving research cruise as well as
  • multiple expeditions to Enewitok and
  • Bikini (atomic tests)


  • In 1960, Limbaugh was killed in a cave diving accident
  • in Cassis, France.
  • Stewart named to replace Connie as the “Principle Health and
  • Safety Technologist.”
  • Changed position title to “Diving Safety Officer.”
  • As scientific diving became more prominent, Stewart was
  • fundamental in the formalization and perpetuation of scientific
  • diver training and operational standards…

University Guide for Diving Safety


Scientific Diving Safety Programs

  • Diving Safety Programs serve a two-fold purpose:
    • a research support function that assists the
    • diving scientist with specialized underwater
    • equipment, advice, and diver support.
    • a risk management function that protects the
    • safety and health of the individual scientist, and
    • the employing organization from excess liability
    • exposure.

Scientific Diving Entities

  • research institutions.
  • public and private universities, museums and
  • aquaria (predominantly research, education, and
  • teaching roles).
  • consulting companies (predominantly contractual
  • environmental, geological, and archaeological
  • investigations.

OSHA & Scientific Diving

  • 1975 - The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and
  • Joiners of America, supported by the AFL-CIO,
  • petitioned the Federal Government urging a
  • standard be issued with respect to all professional
  • diving operations.
  • The permanent standard for Commercial Diving
  • became effective October 20, 1977.
  • The OSHA Commercial Diving Standard if applied
  • to Scientific Diving Operations would present a
  • significant impediment.


  • Organized in 1977, AAUS was incorporated in the
  • State of California in 1983.
  • The Academy submitted arguments to OSHA on
  • October 15, 1979 citing:
    • Self regulation and consensual standards for over 20
    • years.
    • And an accident/incidence rate lower than the
    • Commercial Diving Industry.
  • After extensive negotiation and Congressional
  • Hearings, the scientific diving exemption to
  • commercial diving standards was issued, effective
  • November 28, 1982.

The Exemption

29 CFR Ch. XVII Subpart T 1910.401 – Labor (OSHA)

Defined as scientific diving and which is under the

direction and control of a diving program containing at least the following elements:

A. Diving Safety Manual

B. Diving Control Board


The Exemption

Appendix B to Subpart T - Guidelines for Scientific Diving

1. diving control board : majority are active scientific divers - autonomous and absolute authority over program operations;

2. purpose of diving is advancement of science;

3. scientific diver is observer and data gatherer; and,

4. scientific divers use scientific expertise under water.



  • AAUS is an organization of Organizations
  • AAUS certifies Scientific Diving Programs
  • NOT individual divers
  • The strength of the Academy is this
  • Organizational Membership (OM)

Scientific Diving Standards

  • The American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS): publishes standards
  • for scientific diving certification and operation of scientific diving programs
  • University National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS): research
  • vessel diving safety standards amplify the AAUS standards for diving from a
  • research vessel platform
    • The UNOLS standards for scientific diving are based on the AAUS Scientific
    • Diving standards
  • National Science Foundation (NSF): standards for Ice diving
    • The NSF standards for scientific diving are based on the AAUS Scientific Diving
    • standards
  • Other Scientific Diving Standards:
    • NOAA Diving Program (Dept. of Commerce)
    • EPA
    • United States Geological Survey (Dept. of the Interior)
    • National Park Service
    • CMAS
    • European Scientific Diving Committee

Diving Safety

  • The ultimate responsibility for safety rests with the
  • individual diver...
  • Safety is the judgment of acceptability of risk. Risk is a
  • compound measure of probability and severity of harm to
  • human health. There are degrees of risk, therefore, degrees
  • of safety.
  • estimating risk is a scientific event (an objective and
  • probabilistic pursuit)
  • accepting risk is a political activity (a personal or social
  • judgment)
  • nothing is absolutely free of risk
  • Adapted from Lowrance, W.L. 1976