¿Qué es y cómo funciona el batiscafo?

Un batiscafo es una embarcación diseñada para sumergirse a grandes profundidades y resistir grandes presiones.

El sabio suizo Auguste Piccard se hizo famoso, inicialmente, por ser el primer explorador en globo de la estratosfera. Luego, partiendo de consideraciones sobre los aerostatos, pasó de los abismos de los aires a los abismos oceánicos, ideando el batiscafo, nave de las profundidades marinas.

El americano Beebe había ya construido y ensayado con éxito la batisfera, habitáculo suspendido de un cable, y cuyo descenso sólo estaba limitado por la longitud del cable. Pero éste, al pasar de una longitud determinada, se rompe fatalmente. La batisfera de Beebe alcanzó 830 m de profundidad en 1934, y el bentoscopio de Barton pasó de los 1500 m en 1949. En ambos casos, las oscilaciones del cable obstaculizaron mucho el descenso. Para descender más, Auguste Piccard pensó, ¿por qué no liberar la cabina de modo que pueda evolucionar bajo el agua exactamente igual que un globo libre?

Así concibió el nuevo aparato. La cabina de éste es una esfera de 2 m de diámetro, fabricada de grueso acero para que pueda resistir las enormes presiones de las grandes profundidades. Va sostenida por un flotador lleno de gasolina, porque ésta es más ligera que el agua de mar. El conjunto constituye el equivalente de un aerostato, con su barquilla y su globo de gas.

Para ascender, sólo hay que soltar (como hacen los aeronautas con los sacos de arena) el lastre, que consiste en unos bloques de hierro retenidos por electroimanes (para ascender rápidamente) y en granalla de hierro (cuando solo se trata de matizar la ascensión). La granalla está contenida en un embudo de latón. Alrededor del gollete del embudo hay una bobina eléctrica. Mientras pasa la corriente, las fuerzas magnéticas retienen la granalla. Cada vez que esta corriente es  cortada, la granalla se desliza por el gollote de la misma forma que la arena de un reloj. En caso de falta de corriente, no se corre ningún peligro: al perderse el lastre, el batiscafo asciende a la superficie. La estanqueidad está asegurada por unas juntas especiales de caucho. Las ventanillas, en lugar de ser de cristal, que no resiste las fuertes presiones, son de un material sintéticos transparente.


Una cámara cinematográfica puede registrar las evoluciones de la fauna submarina, iluminada sobre fondo negro mediante potentes proyectores. Finalmente, la comunicación con el barco nodriza se mantiene por tres medios: los ultrasonidos, unos pequeños flotadores que suben rápidamente a la superficie y disparan un cohete, y la radio. El prototipo del profesor Piccard, que no era lo suficientemente «marino», fracasó en sus primeras pruebas; más tarde logró descender, aunque sin pasajeros, hasta 1480 m y volver a emerger fácilmente.

Ya mejorado, el 15 de febrero de 1954, el actual FNRS-3 descendió a 4050 m de profundidad en aguas de Dakar llevando a bordo al comandante Houot y al ingeniero Willm.

Dos superbatiscafos han sido construidos más tarde. Uno en Francia, el Archimèdae, botado en julio de 1961, y el otro en Italia, el Trieste. Ambos son capaces de alcanzar las fosas marinas más profundas.

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