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A scuba mask has several functions varying from protection to vision enhancement, it is something that no diver should be without, and something into which many modifications have gone since its inception. Long before scuba was born, man was fascinated by the ocean’s depths. We would free dive while holding our breath to explore initially. This was the simplest form of underwater exploration. It required no equipment other than your body.
The two needs that most adamantly demanded our attention to further our underwater exploration were vision and respiration. If you have ever opened your eyes under water, you understand what an issue vision can be. Things undulate wildly as the water presses against your eyes, things in the corner s of your vision look distorted. In general, it’s just a mess. I think that respiration speaks for itself, we still haven’t quite figured out the whole breathing water thing, so we went with the next best thing and brought air down there with us.
In addition to being difficult to see in, water is an irritant to our eyes, especially ocean water. So the natural inclination was to find a way to keep air around our eyes to avoid the irritant. The first step in this direction came shortly after the invention of glasses in the form of goggles. These glass eye enclosures sealed to the face with the help of a rubber bushing and a head band. They didn’t help keep water out of your nose, or adjust the vision any, but they were the first type of scuba mask available. You may note that as a mask, they served fairly poorly, but they were the first step on the road to what we have today.
The first masks proper were a single flat, ovular piece of glass outfitted with the same types of sides and rubber bushing as goggles had. The major changes were that a mask covered both eyes in a single enclosure, and it also featured a covering for the nose. Now you no longer had to focus effort at keeping the water out of your sinuses, the mask took care of that little detail for you.
As more research was done into the way that water refracts light, we realized that the way things looked underwater was not an optical illusion, but rather a function of how light behaves underwater. It turns your vision into a fish eye lens. If you ever wondered where the photographic term fish eye lens came from, this is it. Fish literally have eyes shaped differently to compensate for the way water breaks up light. One of the major advances is scuba mask technology occurred when we started mimicking the curvature we found in nature to try and offset the distortion present underwater.
The experiment has been a great success. Today scuba masks offer anywhere from two to four different lenses all incorporated into a single assembly. They refocus the light that enters the mask into something that more closely resembles the appearance of the world out of the water. This makes for some disorienting images when the mask is donned in air, as it will still refocus light, making the world seem a like a reflection in a funhouse mirror. However once you enter the water, you’ll be thankful for the distortion, as it makes the images much clearer and crisper than you would otherwise get.
Some of the latest advances have also incorporated full facial scuba masks. These masks cover the mouth and chin as well as the eyes and nose. They allow a wearer to use microphones for voice contact with the surface and other divers, as well as allowing them to breathe normally. They are safer to use than a normal mask with mouthpiece, because they will continue allowing a diver to receive air as long as there is air in the tanks. A mouthpiece by contrast could fall out if the diver loses consciousness. Full facial masks are preferred for professional diving applications, such as ship hull repairs or deep sea construction for this reason.