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Breathing through a diving snorkel; theory and experiment of air flow resistance and cost of breathing

The snorkel allows a surface swimmer to observe the underwater world through the face mask without being disturbed by inhaling. The effect of a snorkel on breathing resistance and cost is widely held to be substantial. This study aims to model these parameters and to measure indirectly the actual increases. Further, resistances of differing designs and dimensions were assessed and recommendations were made concerning use and choice. Maximal voluntary ventilation in 12 seconds (MVV12) was measured in 19 volunteers seated on dry land with and without a classic J-type snorkel (inner diameter 20.5 mm). The extra and total resistances and costs were calculated using the MVV12 data and using estimated airways resistance extrapolated from subject’s demography and spirometric literature data. MVV12 measurements with snorkel showed a minute volume of 152 ± 38 L∙min-1, 6.0±3.7% lower than without snorkel (p = 7.0x10-6). The theoretical MVV12, calculated from snorkel and airways resistances, decreased by 3.2%. Experimental total breathing resistance (457 ± 83 Pa∙s∙L-1) was 6.5 ± 3.2% higher than without snorkel (p = 2.6x10-7), but the total mechanical breathing cost was unaffected by the snorkel (13.58 Watts with; 13.64 Watts without). Divers’ estimations of resistance increase were exaggerated (8.8% at rest, 23% swimming). Classical J-type snorkels with an inner diameter ≥19.5 mm add 3-16% resistance . There is no risk of hypercapnia. Scuba divers are recommended to use their snorkel to breathe more comfortably on the surface. It is recommended the snorkel be made a mandatory safety accessory. The best multipurpose snorkel (19-21 mm) has no top appendages and no water release valve.

DOI: 10.22462/01.03.2021.10