Throughout the submarine, the atmosphere is continually being
“scrubbed” of carbon dioxide by hanging “curtains”
containing enhanced lithium hydroxide. Meanwhile, the senior
person present in each compartment is using a conventional
PDA to calculate the time remaining before escape becomes
mandatory, with input data from new gas analyzers recently
installed onboard. Eventually, the decision is made that escaping
from the submarine is unavoidable. Fortunately, this crew
will wear the new Submarine Escape Immersion Equipment (SEIE)
– full-body survival suits with built-in life rafts
– and their chance of making it to the surface and surviving
there are better than ever.
these items, from the analytical software in the PDA to the
new SEIE suits have been developed or evaluated for use by
the researchers at NSMRL.
75 years, NSMRL has been the Department of Defense (DOD) Center
for Undersea Biomedical Research. Established in the closing
days of World War II to conduct mission-critical studies in
night vision, sonar sound discrimination, and personnel selection
for the Submarine Service, the laboratory’s efforts
in submarine, diving, and surface biomedical research support
its mission to protect the health and enhance the performance
of today’s warfighters.
years, NSMRL has sponsored an impressive array of high-impact
innovations. For example, the laboratory was responsible for
the SEALAB underwater habitat, development of the International
Orange color for visibility, and the Farnsworth Lantern Color
In addition, NSMRL scientists, have used the hyperbaric chambers
at their facility
on SUBASE New London to develop many of the saturation and
diving decompression tables in use today. NSMRL also researched
many current sonar displays and developed a psychological
screening test for
has been named
the bio-effects lead for
DOD’s development of
diver deterrence systems.
NSMRL continues to address critical issues for the undersea
community, with emphasis on submarine survival and rescue,
submarine medicine, diver bio-effects, hearing conservation,
and situational awareness. This in-house research is pursued
in close association with Submarine Force and fleet elements,
such as the newly established Submarine Learning Center, Submarine
Development Squadrons 5 and 12, and the Naval Submarine School.
the laboratory’s efforts are focused on the warfighter.
For example, Dr. Ed Cudahy leads a major on-going program
studying the bio-effects of underwater sound on the human
diver. One of his projects involves the measurement of noise
made by underwater tools at working dive sites. His team of
scientists and divers descended into history recently when
they collected in situ data as part of a preservation
project for the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The NSMRL team collaborated with Mobile Diving and Salvage
Unit (MDSU) 1 and the National Park Service, making underwater
noise measurements of a new hydraulic tool designed to remove
samples of the battleship’s hull for metallurgical analysis.
The research team had to collect underwater noise levels as
part of NSMRL’s two-year comprehensive in-water noise
survey to determine on-site permissible noise-exposure levels
for divers. Some members of the research team performed similar
work during the recovery of the turret from the USS Monitor.
As a result of this and similar research, NSMRL has been named
the bio-effects lead for DOD’s development of diver
the internal atmosphere that submariners breathe during long
periods of submergence continues to be a focus of the lab.
Onboard systems constantly measure critical levels of oxygen
and carbon dioxide, but other substances in the atmosphere
are potentially damaging to the crew’s health. Working
with the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and the operational
forces, NSMRL conducts the Submarine Atmosphere Health Assessment
Program (SAHAP), which investigates new technologies for long-term
air quality monitoring. As a result, small, passive air-sampling
devices have been placed on many deployed submarines to provide
operational commanders with timely information on airborne-contaminant
levels while underway.
is also concerned with the ability of the crew to conduct
their mission – the “human performance”
element that is now the focus of the Navy’s “revolution
in training.” Sonar operators aboard the new Virginia-class
SSNs will be an immediate beneficiary of this research. Although
moving the old “sonar shack” into the integrated
command center of this highly-automated vessel will significantly
improve tactical decision making, the ambient noise level
of this high-activity area may mask some sonar signals. Thus,
in conjunction with the Bose Corporation, NSMRL’s Joe
Russotti has developed noise-canceling headphones that more
accurately reproduce sonar signals than any unit currently
in use. This same technology is also being used in stethoscopes
for medical corpsmen and in insertable earplugs for combat
troops and Special Operations Forces.
U.S. Navy salvage diver pulls himself off the sea bottom
onto the stage 20 feet above to make the safe decompression
trip back home.
is also the first submarine whose Operational Requirements
Document (ORD) specifically requires improved situational
awareness (SA) for the Commanding Officer. Since there is
currently no adequate measure of SA in a team-oriented submarine
environment, Lieutenant Katie Shobe, MSC, USNR, developed
a metric using concepts adapted from fighter-pilot research.
Shobe’s metric proved out successfully in testing Virginia’s
combat systems, and additional research is underway to see
how the crew’s experience level affects SA performance.
The results can be applied to training, developing new displays,
and drafting operating procedures.
these programs are a reality now…but what about the
future? Three new advanced technology programs at the laboratory
will have immediate impact on tactical capabilities and crew
from the Office of Naval Research, NSMRL’s Dr. Tom Santoro
is improving detection performance by developing a means to
display sonar signals in three-dimensional
auditory space. In addition to allowing sonar operators to
hear short-duration transients more clearly, their “spatial
orientation” within the headphones will indicate the
bearing of the source.
loss is a national problem now costing two billion dollars
in medical compensation annually. At NSMRL, Dr. Lynne Marshall
is using sounds generated internally by the inner ear to detect
the early onset of hearing loss, so that preventive measures
can be taken.
another safety issue, CDR Wayne Horn, MC, USN, the lead researcher
in submarine survival, is studying new technologies for extending
crew endurance and making it easier to rescue survivors from
the hypothetical sunken-submarine scenario that opened this
Submarine Medical Research Laboratory – a small command…
with a huge impact.
Lamb is the Technical Director of the Naval Submarine Medical
Research Laboratory. He received his Ph.D. from the University
of Connecticut and has been in government service for fourteen
years. Joe DiRenzo is a retired Coast Guard officer qualified
in submarines and a Maritime Homeland Security Technical Director
for Anteon Corporation’s Center for Security Strategies