Scripps Scientific Diving Program History

Diver in diving suit at the surface in 1947, with second image of divers in 1952

Diver CK Tseng (left) and early Scripps divers

Scripps Oceanography has been at the forefront of underwater exploration for more than 100 years. Even before the development of SCUBA, several pioneering Scripps scientists were exploring the underwater world with snorkels and surface-supplied gear and making observations of the marine environment.

Scripps's first scientific diver was CK Tseng, a biologist from China and graduate student at Scripps during World War II. In 1944 he used Japanese surface-supplied equipment to collect algae off San Diego’s coast. Several years later, in 1947, Frank Haymaker used a similar surface-supplied diving helmet to make observations in Scripps Canyon.

Shortly after the development of the Aqua-lung, which was the first SCUBA equipment available to the public, UCLA graduate student Conrad Limbaugh and researcher Andreas Rechnitzer purchased a unit. After teaching themselves to use the equipment, since there was no formal training available at the time, they introduced the new technology to Scripps researchers in 1950. From that experience it became clear that SCUBA "was the answer to how to make direct observations and to conduct experiments underwater."

Following several diving-related accidents in the early 1950s involving UC affiliates, the UC Office of the President (UCOP) restricted diving to those who had been trained through the program at Scripps. A statewide committee was formed to address the problems of maintaining this type of research. These committee members were from various backgrounds and included physicians, environmental health and safety specialists, biologists, physicists, and engineers, most of whom were divers. Their progress, the increasing availability of diving equipment, and development of training and certification procedures led the UCOP in 1953 to accept the use of diving as a viable means of conducting academic research.

Under Limbaugh's direction as Scripps's first Diving Safety Officer (DSO), the diver training program that was developed set the standard for training at the University of California, as well as the burgeoning civilian diver training programs around the country. In 1953, the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation sent three individuals to Scripps for diver training. This trio went on to develop the Los Angeles Underwater Instructors Program, the oldest SCUBA certification program in the U.S.

The University of California's decentralization during the early 1960s led to development by the Scripps Diving Safety Officer of programs on each of the other UC campuses. At the request of the UCOP, the divers at Scripps developed the first "University Guide for Diving Safety," initially published in March 1967.

More information can be found in Eric Hanauer’s "Scientific Diving At Scripps" and Mary Lynn Price’s biography of Conrad Limbaugh.

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