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CMU acquires 'yellow submarine' for underwater research

The new submersible is on display in the engineering building at Central Michigan University. It will be moved to the CMU Biological Station on Beaver Island next year.
Adam Miedema
The new submersible is on display in the engineering building at Central Michigan University. It will be moved to Beaver Island near the CMU Biological Station next year.

Don Uzarski lives in a yellow submarine.

Well, not really, but the Central Michigan University biologist will be spending more time in a gold submersible.

Uzarski, the director of CMU's Institute for Great Lakes Research, said the underwater research opportunities are endless with this grant-funded $42,000 submersible.

The new sub will allow researchers to dive 350 feet and monitor water quality and underwater habitats in the Great Lakes. Uzarski said the sub can also eventually be used to inspect the Line 5 dual pipelines in the Mackinac Straits for cracks and leaks.

"I was amazed by the capabilities (compared to) scuba diving and an ROV (remotely operated vehicle)," Uzarski said. "...Being inside the sub was just a whole new world. The view was very different than we get from an ROV."

The sub will be outfitted with modifications like a mechanical arm to take samples, specialized sensors, expanded life support systems and new batteries.

In honor of its future home base on Beaver Island, Uzarski said the sub was named "amik doden" or "beaver clan" by the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.

The experience in the two-person sub, Uzarski said, is not for the faint-hearted.

"Even on dry land, if you're at all claustrophobic, it's not for you," Uzarksi said. "When that hatch is latched, it's not only a tight moving space, but it's air-tight."

Uzarski said the goal is to get scientists, and eventually students underwater, but the university still needs to sort out insurance and liability details.

"When you go to an insurance company and say, 'I want to insure a two-person submersible,' they look at you funny," Uzarski said.

"It has a normal Michigan boater's registration on it," he said. "I'm trying to convince the insurance and liability people that it's just a boat, a specialized boat, but we'll see where that gets me."

Uzarski said the IGLR's research using a borrowed submersible that surveyed whitefish habitats will eventually be published, highlighting the sub's potential uses.

The sub will be featured on the next episode of WCMU Public TV's "Pressing Matters," which will air at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 19.

Editor's note: Central Michigan University holds WCMU's broadcast license. They have no role in decisions about our news coverage, which are made independently by the WCMU newsroom.

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corps Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She covers rural environmental issues, focused on contamination, conservation, and climate change.
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