Bonny Doon resident explores Antarctica underwater
by Joe Shreve
Feb 20, 2014 | 999 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Antarctic diver Henry Kaiser. Joe Shreve/Press-Banner
Antarctic diver Henry Kaiser. Joe Shreve/Press-Banner
Most residents of Santa Cruz County would likely think twice about the idea of going willingly into the ocean of the Monterey Bay during the winter, never mind scuba diving in 28-degree water under 25 feet of Antarctic ice.

For diver, musician, and filmmaker Henry Kaiser, however, its just part of his job.

For the past 11 years, the 61-year-old Bonny Doon resident has spent the months of October through December — the Astral spring — in Antarctica exploring and documenting the little-seen aquatic ecosystems that exist beneath what's known as “fast ice” — the ice layer that forms where the ice shelf meets the actual Antarctic landmass.

“There's been more astronauts in space than divers under fast ice,” said Kaiser, who spoke to members of Pro Scuba Dive Center's Dive Club in Scotts Valley on Tuesday, Feb. 11. “My favorite diving is diving under ice, and I want to share that.”

Kaiser, who said he has spent most of his adult life diving, is a research diver for the National Science Foundation, hired to dive through holes drilled in the ice to explore.

He said that, when he explores beneath the ice, he does not use the tether that most divers use to find his way back to the hole drilled into the ice — his only way out. Instead, he relies on his senses, the buddy system, and the clarity of the water to find the flashing lights and checkered flag that marks the exit.

While that sounds risky, Kaiser said, he is a veteran of more than 440 dives beneath the ice, and being off the tether has allowed him to better explore the nooks and crannies between the seafloor and ice, and to witness what few others ever have — such as the first swim of a seal pup, massive algae blooms, a garden of infinitely delicate ice crystals.

“We're the only divers in the world who go off the tether,” he said.

For the club, which meets monthly, Kaiser presented some of his footage of the Antarctica environment, accompanied by his guitar, followed by a discussion where he described his experiences.

While diving under the ice is arguably his greatest passion, Kaiser has found ways to incorporate his love of music and film, as well.

Some of Kaiser's Antarctic footage can be seen on Werner Herzog's 2007 documentary “Encounters at the End of the World,” which he co-produced and wrote some of the soundtrack for, as well. In addition to the “Encounters” soundtrack, Kaiser is an accomplished guitarist who has been featured in more than 100 albums.

To see an example of Kaiser's work, visit

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