Can 3D Scanning in Overhead Space Improve Divers’ Safety?

Diving safety is greatly influenced by the diver’s psychological comfort. However, exploring new and unfamiliar underwater environments can be stressful, adding to the diver’s anxiety. Under such circumstances, unforeseen challenges like limited visibility or equipment malfunctions can further intensify the stress, especially when diving in uncharted territories.

But can the use of three-dimensional models of dive sites alleviate this stress? And to what extent? Unfortunately, conducting reliable studies to definitively answer these questions is challenging. Scanning submerged caves and mines is a relatively new practice, with only a handful of such sites documented in Europe.

Fontanazzi example

The Fontanazzi Cave serves as an example of an irregularly shaped tunnel. The model was created by Bartek Pitala. Poster by

Nevertheless, I can share my personal experience. The Submerged foundation, which I oversee, collaborates with prominent cave explorers, including Bartek Pitala from our country. I had the opportunity to view Bartek’s scan of the intricate entrance to the Fontanazzi cave in Italy. This cave features a series of tight restrictions that limit access to further passages. After virtually exploring the cave multiple times, I found no difficulties in navigation. This suggests that familiarizing oneself with the intended dive site through cave scanning is a sensible approach that can help reduce stress levels.

Saving lives in flooded caves

Building on this idea, I spoke with my friend Mikko Paasi from Finland, who participated in the rescue operation at the Tham Luang cave in Thailand. Mikko shared an incident where he and other rescuers had to navigate through a narrow opening (less than a meter in diameter) with zero visibility. They had no choice but to follow the handrail and ropes that guided them towards the exit. It was only after the operation, when the water had receded, that they discovered the opening had a wider section just a few centimeters away, allowing for a more comfortable swim. Unfortunately, they were unaware of this during the rescue, and any attempts to explore the area without visibility could have had tragic consequences.

Investigating the potential of 3D scanning, cave scanning, and underwater photogrammetry in cave diving can lead to significant advancements in diver safety. By creating accurate and detailed models of submerged cave systems, divers can familiarize themselves with the environment beforehand, reducing stress and increasing their preparedness for potential challenges.