Women Underwater

A comprehensive resource for women divers.


JILL HEINERTH – A pioneering underwater explorer, Jill Heinerth has dived deeper into caves than any woman in history. Selected for the inaugural class of the Women Divers Hall of Fame, her recent awards include the Wyland Icon and Scuba Diving Magazine’s Sea Hero of the Year. Recognizing a lifetime of contributions to advancing underwater exploration, in 2013, Jill was presented with the Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration by the Royal Canadian Geographic Society. The author of several books about diving Jill currently has two titles on Amazon.com’s extreme sports “Top 100” bestseller charts. She is an active filmmaker, author, a regular Diver Magazine columnist and a highly regarded technical diving instructor. Her company, Heinerth Productions, Inc. specializes in independent publishing, new media content creation, and underwater videography. Jill Heinerth’s professional credentials includes PADI CCR Trimix Instructor Trainer in addition to teaching for several rebreather and cave diving agencies.


RENEE POWER – Since 1994 Renee Power has participated in dozens of underwater research projects and public education outreach efforts with the Cambrian Foundation. With the Foundation dive team, she has explored and surveyed thousands of feet of new passages in Mexico and Florida caves. She served as Expedition Dive Safety Officer for projects in Bermuda and Florida, designing detailed safety and evacuation protocols specific to those regions. Renee is an active PADI Master Instructor. Her technical training certifications include Full Cave, Trimix and the Prism Topaz Closed Circuit Rebreather. Renee is a Disabled Diver International Instructor and has served in the Deptherapy Program with wounded military veterans. Her favorite students are the ones she helps empower to overcome their greatest challenges, obstacles and fears.

Crossing the Arctic Circle

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With 9000 feet of water below us, in the middle of the Davis Strait that separates Baffin Island from Greenland, we watch our Suunto Ambit computers tick down towards the point that marks the crossing of the Arctic Circle. We are determined to swim across this arbitrary point that looms so significantly in our minds.

In early 2000, I crossed the Antarctic Circle en route to making my first documentary film “Ice Island.” We were chasing the largest iceberg in recorded history – a piece of ice the size of Jamaica. It was the first time I had heard scientists speaking gravely about global climate change.

Now, just fourteen years later I lunge into the Arctic Ocean with my nine women colleagues and snorkel across a spot that was bound by sea ice when I visited Antarctica.

We cannot ignore that ocean change and earth change is hurtling towards us like a freight train with no brakes. Though we may feel powerless to halt its advance, we can all make small changes in our lives that help. Talking about it is just the start.

Read the right sidebar on this page for a few ideas.

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Overcome Fear

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This message is a universal one. Every diver should know how to embrace fear to survive. In this short nine minute video I describe life lessons that have helped me face the worst and come home safe. It has a special focus for rebreather divers about basic preparation that will help you prevent most common rebreather diving accidents.

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Planning for Safety on Expeditions

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Nobody ever had real practice for something that has never been done before. How did Neil Armstrong practice how to walk on the moon? Individually and as a team, it can be challenging to develop an operational safety plan when you don’t know all the factors you will encounter. On our Proof of Concept Expedition, we had a lot to learn.

We spent many hours on Skype and email, but on our project, we were working together as a team for the first time. We hired an expedition support organization Arctic Kingdom which assisted with trip logistics, outfitting and hiring the charter vessel MV Cape Race. Cape Race had experience in the Arctic but had never supported a snorkeling and diving project before. A compressor, tanks, weights and Divemasters were installed on the Cape Race, but we still had to develop a safety document that would address everyone’s concerns, keep us within a tolerable risk envelope and would satisfy all the various insurers who also had a stake in creating a safe expedition.

Before I signed on to Sedna Project, I told Expedition Leader Susan Eaton that I was interested in developing the operational plan that would include how individuals prepared themselves for the expedition and how operations would occur on the boat. I developed a clear chain of command so that the Expedition Leader, Team Physician and Boat Captain could feel that they had the opportunity for veto if specific activities made them uncomfortable. I outlined a way for divers and snorkelers to accept personal responsibility and participate in planning and operations in a way that empowered them to take command, and also cancel or abort a dive if they felt they were over their heads.

On the first night of team building exercises in Nain, Assistant Expedition Leader Emily Dowding Smith asked us all to share our deepest fears about the project. She gave us each seven minutes to write down our thoughts and prepare to present them to the group. In the course of seven minutes, I counted all the dear friends and colleagues of mine who did not come home from expeditions. I recalled their smiling faces before the projects that were supposed to actualize their life dreams and I recalled writing letters to family, giving eulogies and going to far too many funerals. When the time came to present my fears I broke down into tears. Barely able to get the words out, my dear teammates offered for me to take a break, but through the pain, I knew this was the time to tell them that they were very special to me and that I wanted to get everyone home healthy above all other goals.

I am incredibly grateful to my teammates for their understanding and for using that empathy to conduct a smooth and safe operation every day. We gelled as team and we grew to be very effective together. We took turns being Dive Safety Officers, Deck Bosses and Deck Hands. We took every role with utmost seriousness even if that role was simply being in charge of safely loading a Zodiac or helping to dress another diver. I am incredibly proud of the focus on detail and concentration that everyone brought to each operation.

We achieved things that had never been done before and safely brought new challenges into our operations each day. Snorkeling on a relay in the middle of the Davis Strait with 9000 feet of water beneath us, I knew we could check off one big accomplishment. We are a great team.

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We Are Arctic Water

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On this journey to the Arctic, I have been very interested to learn whether indigenous people are concerned about the security of their fresh water supply. In speaking with local citizens, I could not find anyone who seemed troubled about the quantity or quality of their water supply. They felt that the abundance of ice around them guaranteed a clean supply for their foreseeable future.

However, climate change is indeed having an affect on water security and future supplies. Melting glaciers mean that the location and quantity of water supplies is shifting. Seasonal precipitation is dropping and evapotranspiration is increasing. As the permafrost melts, rivers and lakes sometimes disappear unexpectedly.

Quality of water supplies is also impacted. Shoreline erosion brings salty water inland. Increased global access to the Arctic leads to resource development that is accompanied by manmade pollutants and other impacts. Melting permafrost also leads to a release of natural pollutants such as methane and additional greenhouse gases. Then as resource development brings a population northward, their need for food, water and energy will further tap into clean water resources. The future is uncertain in terms of water security but I feel that an emphasis on water literacy will be important to add to the educational system. People need to understand where their water will come from and how it might be depleted or polluted from climate change and other global influences such as industrialization of the north.

Last night I gazed down on the massive ice sheet in Ilulissat Greenland. I recalled my first experience seeing as glacier as a child. My father and I hiked on top the Columbia Ice Fields in Canada. The remarkable foot of ice extending down the mountain pass has receded dramatically. The location where I got my boot stuck in glacial goop is a long hike from the end of the ice field. I have seen dramatic climate change in my time. What will the second half of my life bring and more importantly, how can I help people to prepare for it?

For further reference, please read:

Climate change and water security with a focus on the Arctic – Birgitta Evengard, Jim Berner, Michael Brubaker, Gert Mulvad, and Boris Revich.

Norman E, Bakker K, Cook C, Dunn G, Allen D. Water security: a primer. A Policy Report–Fostering Water Security in Canada. 2010. Available from: http://www.watergovernance.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/WaterSecurityPrimer20101.pdf. ISBN 978-0-88865-698-8.

ACIA – Scientific Report. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2004. ISBN:9780521865098.

Vörösmarty CJ, McIntyre PB, Gessner MO, Dudgeon D, Prusevich A, Green P, et al. Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity. Nature. 2010;467:555–61.

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Greenland’s Ice Cap

The Greenland ice cap has an estigreenlndmated volume of 1.7 million km3 with numerous glaciers that extend from the ice cap out to the Davis Strait. The most well-known of these is the Ilulissat Glacier. It is one of the fastest and most active glaciers in the world, creating dramatic and breath-taking scenery of ice and sea. Producing 10% of all Greenland’s ice fields, this glacier represents roughly 35 billion tons of ice a year. The ice fields of Greenland’s glaciers are products of the ice cap, formed form fresh water which has fallen as snow over the past 100,000 years.

Ilulissat is a vibrant town with a popular boardwalk that leads out to the ice field, where people can watch city-block-sized icebergs creak, growl and calf into the sea.


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Changing Salinity in Arctic Waters

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Immense ‘dome’ of fresh water bulging atop Arctic Ocean off Alaska

Doug O’Harra

CPOM scientists have discovered that the freshwater stored in the western Arctic Ocean has increased by 8000 km3 between the mid 1990s and 2010. Credit: UCL – ESA – PVL

Enough extra fresh water to just about fill lakes Michigan and Huron to the brim has collected in the top layers of the Arctic Ocean northeast of Alaska during the past decade, according to new research published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Driven largely by strong winds and an immense circular current, some 8,000 cubic kilometers of fresh water have bulged up into a widespread dome since the 1990s.

“In the western Arctic, the Beaufort Gyre is driven by a permanent … wind circulation. It drives the water, forcing it to pile up in the centre of gyre, and this domes the sea surface,” lead author Katharine Giles with the Centre for Polar Observation in London, told BBC news in this detailed and graphically illustrated story.

Giles and her four-member team monitored changes in the height of the sea surface between the mid 1990s and 2010 using the Eurorpean Space Agency satellites EFS-2 and Envisat. They found that the overall level in the Beaufort Sea and Canadian Basin has been rising about 2 centimeters per year, mostly during the 2000s.

 “This increase in fresh water corresponds to an increase in the anti-cyclonicity (clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere) of the wind over the western Arctic,” they explained in this story posted by the Polar Observation center.

 “Models had suggested that the action of the wind on the sea surface could cause a raised dome of freshwater to form in the middle of the Beaufort Gyre, but until now there had been no continuous observations of sea-surface height to categorically demonstrate this.”

A reversal of the wind could prompt a release of this fresh water into the rest of the Arctic Ocean or even into the Pacific and Atlantic, the scientists noted.

That’s not all. The scientists also found that the sea surface height didn’t always match the behavior of the wind — leading them to speculate that sea ice tweaks the pattern and changes the freshwater build-up in ways that still need to be analyzed.

“We were surprised to find that our results also suggested that something else was going on,” Giles said here. “One idea is that sea ice forms a barrier between the atmosphere and the ocean. So, as the sea-ice cover changes, the effect of the wind on the ocean might also change.”

There’s actually an ocean of freshwater perpetually sloshing around atop the Arctic Ocean — coming from river runoff, precipitation, evaporation, melting of sea ice and glaciers, and the complex interchange with the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the authors explained.

“More than 70,000 cubic kilometers of freshwater are stored in the upper layer of the Arctic Ocean, leading to low salinities in upper-layer Arctic sea water, separated by a strong (boundary) from warm, saline water beneath,” the scientists wrote.

How much is that? About 16,800 cubic miles — enough to fill six Lake Superiors.

Where that water flows and how it interacts with sea life and the warmer, saltier water beneath is critical to Arctic oceanography. A different group of researchers reported in Nature a few weeks ago that the central Beaufort Sea was the freshest it’s been in 50 years, with most of the additional water coming from Eurasian river runoff — not ice melt.

“A hemisphere-wide phenomenon — and not just regional forces — has caused record-breaking amounts of freshwater to accumulate in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea,” wrote Sandra Hines of the University of Washington in this story.

Read More

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Suunto Provides Computers for Team Sedna

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Diving the D4i Novo Computer

D4i Novo Blue Perspective - Diving Depth MetricI’ve been a Suunto Brand Ambassador for many years and have been using their products for more than two decades. I’ve always been a fan of quality and reliability for documenting my expeditions to extreme environments. Suunto has provided team divers with their flagship D4i Novo computer. This popular design offers lightweight functionality with optional air integration, all in the size of a wrist watch. At the heart of every Suunto dive computer is a mathematical algorithm that keeps track of the diver’s decompression status. The reduced gradient bubble model (RGBM) algorithm was developed by Suunto together with Dr. Bruce Wienke for well over a decade. This adaptable algorithm provides an accurate picture of what’s happening in the body throughout a dive and its reliability has been proven by millions of successful dives.

Suunto dive watches are easily downloadable to PCs and Macs and data can be stored and repurposed using their free DM4 software. With the diver’s permission, this data can also be populated on the movescount.com website and shared through social networks as desired.


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Suunto Gives Direction to Team Sedna

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The Ambit 2S Sport Watch

suunto-ambit2-s-white-hr-l-1Suunto has provided Team Sedna with Ambit 2S GPS fitness watches to track our journey through the Arctic. These advanced devices are used by athletes around the world to track their fitness, journeys and adventures. This particular version of the Ambit is specially designed to fit women’s narrower wrists yet provides full features of the watch. The Ambit has become an open source craze among computer savvy athletes. The data can be repurpose using community shared apps. Clever programmers have created apps such as a cupcake counter, letting a runner know how many cupcakes they have burned off. Other more serious apps help swimmers, triathletes, cyclists plan their training for events and life goals.

Sedna swimmers will gather heart rate data, GPS location, speed and duration in the water. We’ll be using the movescount.com website to log date and shout it out to the world.

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Water Change in the Arctic

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How Climate Change Affects Water in the Arctic

Right now the permafrost is changing fast in the Arctic and will likely shrink more than 10% in the next 20 years with the permafrost borders shifting up to 200 km northward. Where permafrost is present, the ground is frozen up to 500 m deep with only the top meter thawing in summer. That means that lakes, rivers and wetlands in the Arctic do not generally connect with the  groundwater. Surface water is abundant in summer offering breeding grounds for  fish, birds and mammals. That paradigm is changing fast.

When surface water disappears, it affects breeding animal populations and humans who also rely on it for survival.  Therefore, it is imperative that we study the impacts of climate change on general water security in the Arctic.

As the climate warms, natural sources of water and water infrastructure are both affected. Communities and support structure built on permafrost may have to move. Sanitation facilities may also be affected and can contaminate clean water sources if not contained properly.

Water quality is also being impacted adversely as mankind industrializes parts of the Arctic with mining and energy operations. Pollutants are released into the pristine natural environment. Natural pollutants are also released as the permafrost melts. Greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere by thaw and flooding, when lowlands are swamped from sea level rise and erosion is increased.

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Ice Diving Tips

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Regulators and Cold Water

Walking to the dive site in Russia’s Ural Mountains.

Regulator free-flows are one of the greatest hazards when diving under ice or in very cold water (less than 4°C). The condition is caused by the sudden drop in pressure as air passes from the cylinder through the first stage. When high pressure air passes through the first stage, it hyper-cools the metal moving parts. In a piston reg, small ice crystals can block the piston open, causing more air flow and trapping the piston open, creating a vicious feedback loop of more air, more ice and a runaway free flow. The air pressure overwhelms the downstream valve in the second stage and all of a sudden you are receiving high pressure air right through the entire system, eventually rupturing the LP hose or damaging the second stage. This phenomena can also occur less commonly with diaphragm regulators. To minimize the likelihood of free flow, use equipment conforming to CE standard EN250 (Cold Water Use). Diaphragm regs are generally better than pistons, which allow water to enter the first stage. Diaphragms can also be fitted with cold water kits, reducing the cold water contact with metal, moving parts.

Procedures are critical too. Never inflate a dry suit, inflate your BCD and breathe in simultaneously. To decrease the volume of gas passing through the first stage, do these things independently. Heavy breathing or use of the purge button increases the cooling effect of the airflow, so try to avoid both.

Free flows can also occur at the second stage, usually on the surface and caused by low air temps and breathing a wet reg in the open air. To prevent this, never inhale on a second stage out of the water when you are in a cold environment. To begin your dive, inhale fresh air topside, then dip your head below water and exhale into the second stage. Do this two or three times to warm the second stage and then submerge and begin breathing in a controlled manner.

Ensure that the cylinder and the air within it is as dry as possible. Keep the system warm until the last moment prior to diving.

Between dives, ensure that no water enters the air intake of the first stage when drying the dust cap. If possible, dry the second stage fully before the next use.

Restrict yourself to no-stop dives at depths from which you can make a free ascent in an emergency or carry a redundant tank and regulator, ensuring that you will be able to turn off the valve of the free-flowing tank quickly. Make sure you have practiced using your bailout. Free flows are extremely chilling and you want to switch to bailout as soon as possible.

Ice diving in Tobermory Canada with John Tait and Instructor Dale McKnight. My late 80s retro drysuit might even be coming back in style!

Ice diving in Tobermory Canada with John Tait and Instructor Dale McKnight. My late 80s retro drysuit might even be coming back in style!

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Women Underwater – The Comprehensive Guide to Women in Scuba Diving, reaches out to women with specific information about their place in diving. With detailed guidance on equipment, medical issues and social factors, this book reaches women with inspiring stories from mentors who have forged a career in unique underwater fields. Authors Jill Heinerth and Renee Power tackle topics for both recreational and technical divers while featuring their vast experience in instruction, consulting and working in a field predominantly governed by men. At times humorous yet also deadly serious, the book answers delicate questions about hygiene, equipment fit and dealing with sexism. Printed in full color and generously illustrated, Women Underwater will be a welcome resource for any woman diver.

Women Underwater will be available Fall 2014!