Deep-sea researchers go underground

Lula 1000


Kirsten and Joachim Jakobsen, whose non-profit Rebikoff-Niggeler Foundation is supported by Evonik, fulfilled their dream.

Kirsten and Joachim Jakobsen have been drawn to the world below for many years. With their submersible Lula1000, the two wildlife filmmakers have advanced exploration of the deep sea. A viewing dome made of PLEXIGLAS® provdes a valuable service at a depth of 1,000 meters underwater. When visitors from Germany’s Ruhr region met the researchers, they always heard the same wish: "I’d also like to experience being 1,000 meters down Underground," said Joachim Jakobsen, "in a mine."

Thanks to support from RAG, this wish has now become a reality. The Jakobsens took part in an underground tour at the Prosper-Haniel mine in Bottrop, Germany. For their descent, the couple left their oxygen tanks behind and instead travelled in a pit cage—to a depth of a staggering 1,200 meters. On their tour below ground, the Jakobsens discovered similarities and also differences with their submersible LULA1000, which is stationed in the Azores. The enourmous pressure from above plays a big role, for example, whether underground or underwater. In a submarine, it is the pressure hull that protects against this. The PLEXIGLAS® viewing dome alone—which has a circumference of 1.4 meters—has to contend with a pressure equivalent to two-and-half times greater than a jumbo jet. Below ground, tunnel supports and state-of-the-art hydraulic shields provide for the necessary saftey and stability. One difference is the follwoing: the deeper you go underwater, the cooler it gets, while underground, the temeperature increases steadily. "I’m looking forward to the warmer temperatures," says Kirsten Jakobsen, who operates the high-resolution camera onboard LULA1000.

Underground, just like underwater, it is important to ensure safe and controlled provision of oxygen. In LULA1000, this is done by means of on-board oxygen tanks. Underground, this is ensured via effective ventilation. In both places, safety has top priority.

One of the biggest differences is the clothing: On a dive, the Jakobsens normally just wear shorts and Evonik polo shirts—and no shoes. The water in the Azores region never really gets particularly cold the whole year round, and, in a submersible, too much clothing just gets in the way. At the mine, however, the Jakobsens were kitted out in full safety gear for their tour below ground: Shin guards and knee pads, safety boots, mining lamps, and emergency escape breathing apparatus. And a helmet—which Joachim Jakobsen only wears for steering LULA1000 into the support vessel Ada Rebikoff—which the German research couple wore for their entire time underground.

Their tour of the mine left the Jakobsens fascinated by the technology used underground. Joachim Jakobsen, who designed the submersible himself and assisted in its construction, was intrigued to hear all the details. He was impressed by the speed at which the rope haulage system transports people and material, saying, "Our descents are of course much slower."