Let's say I'm an extremely rich and somewhat secretive research group who wants to carry out experiments and such away from the prying eyes of the public. One of the obvious ideas for the location of a large laboratory would be underwater, where you don't have to hide it under some alternative identity to keep people away and there are far fewer rules and regulations to deal with outside of the ones you set yourself. So, assuming I have the resources to build such a place, where would be my best options to construct it if I want to take advantage of as many natural resources as possible? Just to be specific enough, this base of operations would need to be somewhat independent, but still able to obtain supplies from the outside world via submarines and such. It would need to be able to house a staff of at least several hundred as well as large animals, both terrestrial and seagoing (for experimental purposes). Below are some of the resources I'd like to utilize in order to make it seem more grounded in the real world.

  1. Close enough to geothermal vents and/or plate boundaries so that geothermal power is an option to help reduce energy costs
  2. Close enough to the surface to take in some amount of sunlight for greenhouses, not be crushed under the pressure of the water around it (strong building materials should help combat this), and generally help people's circadian clocks stay somewhat stable.
  3. However, it also needs to be far enough under the ocean to be hidden from the general public (governments really don't matter as much)
  4. Possibly somewhere that ocean currents could be used to help generate power (I've heard of this idea, but it's kind of icing on the cake)

Other than that, if there are any other advantages to a certain location, then that's even better!

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ In the total cost of building and running a large long-term underwater facility, energy costs are a rounding error. And any kind of large-scale semi-clandestine underwater construction activity is guaranteed to stir the interest of such nosy organizations as the United States Navy, the Russian Navy and the Navy of the People's Liberation Army; all three of them have nuclear submarines... Expect to be boarded for sea-worthiness inspections; prepare convincing papers and have English, Russian and Chinese translators at the ready. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 26 '17 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ This reminds me of The Spy Who Loved Me (movie, not novel). $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Dec 27 '17 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ Note that the wreck of MH370 has still not been found in the Indian Ocean; the remote ocean far from shipping and air traffic is surprisingly un-surveyed, so even if people were looking for the lab they'd have trouble finding it. $\endgroup$
    – pjc50
    Dec 27 '17 at 9:17
  • $\begingroup$ Unless you want to fake the manifests of all the ships going in and out of your lab it is going to be difficult to hide what's going on inside. If you can do that, why not just have a land lab as a front to a secret back lab? $\endgroup$
    – Muuski
    Dec 28 '17 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ Honestly it sounds like you want a zoo, not an underwater station. You've got all sorts of animals to display, you can easily have some greenhouses for the jungle buildings, and then just drop it wherever you have abundant power $\endgroup$
    – bendl
    Dec 28 '17 at 18:55

One of the obvious ideas for the location of a large laboratory would be underwater...

So far so good.

... where you don't have to hide it under some alternative identity to keep people away.

Nope. It is exactly because you don't have a cover up that you will get prying eyes. What do your goons tell the dock officers when they get asked about the destination for all those tons of fertilizer?

Instead, find or found some legitimate business that can only be conducted very far from the shore, and then you can buy all the supplies you need with practically no questions asked.

For example, pair your lab up with an oil company. You can build the lab right under an oil platform. The platform provides the fuel, energy, and the facade you need to buy all kinds of tools, chemicals, machinery and other supplies. If you happen to own the platform you can also use its profits to bankroll the lab. Otherwise the lab provides tech and food (for those courageous enough to eat... whatever it is that you do there).

If you want to go green for whatever reasons, you could find a university that does state-of-the-art technological research (MIT, Caltech) and conduct research on wave power. This way you get paid to build your own generators instead of having to spend your own money on them. Find some Central or South America island to conduct your research - you can use the excuse that you get more solar power that way, also altruistically you are going to help some poor country with their economy... And then you use the local corruption on your favor, to keep prying eyes away. Bonus if the island happens to be a fiscal haven. Honour the research contracts with your partners, but do keep a couple offices and rooms in the underwater facilities which only a select few mad scientists have the clearance to visit.

Those still too social for you? Partner with a government and help them build a research station on the south pole. Guaranteed supply deliveries, paid by taxpayer money. Just spend a few thousand dollars building a cute house and drilling ice every few months, write something about gas concentrations on different layers of ice... And they will leave you alone to spend the remaining millions on whatever. Build yourself a nice facility inside Lake Vostok, where not even the most powerful spy sattelites will catch you. Have fun!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I like the way you think. It never really occurred to me that pairing the lab people with a company, government, or etc could work out so well. $\endgroup$ Dec 27 '17 at 0:05

Why build your secret lair underwater when it is fairly easy to hide out in abandoned warehouse complexes, abandoned shopping malls, cave complexes or the middle of the desert?

I'm going to assume there is an ulterior motive, and that is protection. Hiding under water provides protection from most forms of radiation, electromagnetic energy and other signatures, as submariners well know. You are actually protected in both directions, unless you have antenna or waveguides breaching the surface, you will not be emitting signals that can reveal your position, and many forms of detection or even attack will be blocked or heavily shielded by the mass of water overhead. Unless the people looking for you are intending to blast you out of the water with depth charges or torpedoes, you will be protected from everything up to nuclear detonations above the water's surface.

But sailing around to the middle of the ocean is probably going to attract attention as well, not to mention giving you a single point of failure weakness: anyone intercepting your supply ship can either find you (by following the ship) or starve you out (by seizing or sinking the ship). Putting your secret lair under some inland body of water like the Great Lakes will have similar issues.

So if you need to shield your lair using a body of water, put it under an artificial body of water like a pool inside a warehouse, or sink it under a quarry.

enter image description here

What lies beneath?

Movement is hidden in the general traffic in and out of the warehouse complex, or the trucks moving in and out of the quarry. So long as you are not using something like a large nuclear reactor underwater, the thermal signature will be very diffused, and movement is hidden by the roof of the warehouse, or the movement of the water due to quarrying operations and the wind in the case of an outdoor lair. Quarry water might even be opaque due to suspended solids in the water from the quarrying.

Even building the lair could be simplified, since the depth is not really going to be enough to generate a large static column, a large diameter steel or concrete pipe might be sufficient to form the basis of the lair, and moving stuff like that around industrial sites is unlikely to attract a lot of attention. Similarly, workmen can be brought in from time to time to do work without really revealing what is really going on (much of the work can be done on land and the finished pieces delivered underwater at night). Even utilities can be simply routed from land to the underwater lair with minimal issues.

enter image description here

Sealab II. Park one of these inside a large pool, or keep adding units as your secret organization grows

Seriously, most secret organizations draw more attention to themselves by trying to be secretive. Take the simple route instead.


An old seamount

If you have ever seen Lava, then you know the ultimate destination of any coral atoll is a few meters below the sea level. There are a variety of these so called 'drowned reefs' around the world and they fit many of your requirements.

First, they used to be on a volcanic hotspot; the mantle plume is no longer close enough to the surface to cause earthquakes and eruption, but it is still closer than normal for some geothermal power access. Second you can select a seamount close enough to be in the photic zone for growing food or solar power or what have you. Even seamounts down below 100m could have towers of a sort built on them to get up to the light. Third, you can select some that are in the middle of nowhere. This will certainly reduce the traffic of prying eyes. A few disappearing fishing ships and a nice Neo-Bermuda Triangle reputation won't hurt. In any case it will be easy enough to put the base outside of any country's EEZ; their economic zone as recognized by the UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) Lastly, ocean currents exist everywhere! They may be slow but they will be a steady source of power. Though in fairness, what is a secretive research organization without their own nuclear reactor?

Some options

  • Davis Seamount (20.9 S, 33.9 W) is part of the Island chain made by the Trinidad hotspot. It is deep but can take advantage of the relatively strong Brazil current.

  • Walters Shoals is really far out of the way and within 20 meters of the surface.

  • Cobb Seamount isn't really ideal since it is close to the shipping routes out of Seattle, which means it is also close to a variety of US Navy submarine bases

  • Muirfield Seamount is within Australia's EEZ, but has the advantage of not being discovered until 1973, and then only when a merchant ship hit it. So its pretty remote.



I would scout for semi-active volcanic islands along the Pacific "Rim of Fire" that are in tropical or subtropical waters. Look at atolls where one member of the ring is active, and most of the rest of the atoll is just reefs with little value. You want a small version of Bora-bora.

Such islands are inhabited. You either have to bring the local population into the plan, as minions, or you need to bribe them to move away, or you have to create a reason why part of the atoll is tabu.

If the volcano is semi-active, with slant bore or horizontal bore you can get good geothermal heat. Many of these islands are seamounts above the abyssal plain, so cold water for the other end of the cycle is readily available.

As an alternative to geothermal, look at OTEC It uses the differential temperature between tropical sea water and the chilly water on the floor 12,000 feet down. Non trivial engineering.

Anything close enough to the surface to get light for crops will be close enough to be visible by aerial or satellite surveillance. You need to disguise it to look like the surroundings.
For this reason consider an area where the there is already a lot of texture to the ocean floor. Tropical reef areas, coral or otherwise. A picture of the ocean bottom near by, printed on transparent film and stuck to the inside of the dome would work. This is now used for for wrapping busses, windows and all for advertising.

Tropics are good in other ways:

  • Insulating a transparent dome for growing would be tricky. You want a location with water temps at least in the upper 60's or 70's.

  • Source of recreational activities for your minions.

You need to be off the beaten track. These reefs are also popular tourist destinations.

This brings up another problem. Unless your plans of world domination fit in a suitcase or otherwise don't require much in the way of either personnel or supplies, large amounts of traffic going to the middle of not much will get noticed. You can plausibly increase the shipping to a spot by 10% if it is in similar shapes to existing shipping (seacans are a big win for you.) But a thousand seacans coming to some dot in the pacific ocean that previously received 8 seacans a year will get talked about, and not just on the island.

Infra-structure. Any serious plan for world domination is going to require energy. Materials. Those thousand seacans imply a loading dock capable of handing seacans. A loading dock means guys who can run the cranes, and fix them when they break. It implies serious generators to provide power. No one has a submarine seacan delivery system yet.

You might do better to use tourism as a cover: Your undersea lab is touted as "Aquaworld: The world of the future" and be a thriving tourist destination, while your dastardly demonic deeds take place in the basement, or in a separate bubble. This gives you cover for traffic, your common supplies. Only things like the gigawatt klystron tubes for frying astronauts on the ISS need to be smuggled in.

Working underwater adds a great deal of unnecessary complexity unless the evil deeds themselves are oceanic in nature. It's much easier to hide things in plain view. E.g. Find a city in the rust belt, and take over an abandoned industrial complex. Again you would have some sort of front activity so you could get permits, and such, but your required minion count drops: You no longer need farmer minions, or underwater dome maintenance minions. If you do it in country where bribes are part of life, you can sort circuit the permit process. Just make sure they are honest bureaucrats -- they stay bought.

If you are doing something that might get noticed in an industrial slum, consider an abandoned mine. Make up some story about new leaching processes that can recover smaller amounts profitably. Lots of back country mines now have fly in workers, separate camps. If you present it as a prototype project, the plane can be fairly small. DC3 or twin Otter.

An abandoned sawmill on the BC or SE Alaskan coast would have possibilities too.


Close enough to geothermal vents and/or plate boundaries so that geothermal power is an option to help reduce energy costs.

I found this image showing the hottest geothermal regions:Hottest Known Geothermal Regions

Although I'm not totally sure if this covers all the random geothermal blobs far out at sea, it's probably easier to access the ocean floor if you're somewhere near land where the ocean isn't extremely deep. Most of the red blobs have islands or aren't even in the ocean, but the one between Portugal and the Island of Newfoundland doesn't. That might be a difficult place to build; according to this image from the National Geographic society, that's right over the Atlantic Mid-Ocean Canyon, with a rather inconvenient depth averaging several kilometers (2-3 miles-ish).

Close enough to the surface to take in some amount of sunlight for greenhouses, not be crushed under the pressure of the water around it (strong building materials should help combat this), and generally help people's circadian clocks stay somewhat stable.

However, it also needs to be far enough under the ocean to be hidden from the general public (governments really don't matter as much).

To fit both of these perfectly is a bit like trying to find a number both less than three and more than four. With satellite imaging and Google Maps and such, if there's little enough water between you and the air for farming off the sun, there's little enough space you'll get seen.

One possible solution would involve camouflage. Ideally, go somewhere with pretty crazy seafloor, and build your thing with a similar pattern. With good enough indoor lighting, you could probably farm inside. I'd say keep the humans on a mostly-plant diet; animals eat more than they produce and aren't really worthwhile in a compact environment, except for experimenting and occasional fancy dinners. Potatoes would make good underground-crops because they keep just about forever and don't require refrigeration. Also, farm stuff without dirt; use nutrient-imbued water, whatever that stuff is called.

A quick google search and this page revealed that a sphere would be the best shape if it remains stationary. One, it's physically better, two, it keep the commutes within the thingamajig shorter. Of course, if it has to move, a sphere wouldn't be... hydrdynamic? I guess that's the word for that. Also, it'd likely just spin around, and you wouldn't get anywhere. As for keeping circadian clocks in line, there's not much you can do other than keeping the schedule clear at night and maybe making the lighting a bit darker (note use of darker) at night.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you could make your lab totally public. (Or at least, it seems totally public.) An oil rig with a secret lab might work, although questions could come up. ("Say, Bob, how does three tons of cheetah food help you drill for oil?") One advantage of this is that it provides an energy source. Assuming, of course, that fossil fuels are still used when your story takes place (I dunno whether this is supposed to be futuristic or not). I couldn't get a map of where in the sea oil is common.

A variant of that, even more public, would be to do something with tourism. If you made an ocean retreat with an amazing zoo (Mr. Marglewithy's Magnificent Marine Menagerie?), then you could ship animal-keeping supplies (or the animals themselves) without making anyone suspicious. Chemicals might be a little tricky, but you could probably think of some excuse. This would, in my mind, be the best approach.

Possibly somewhere that ocean currents could be used to help generate power (I've heard of this idea, but it's kind of icing on the cake).

The feasibility of this is somewhat dependent on how well you can access the ocean floor. If you rig an ocean-current device off your lab, it's probably gonna drag your lab and all its energy will probably be spent keeping your lab on one place however, if you're able to connect it to the ocean floor, then you might actually be able to generate power. It's certainly a good idea; one you might want to explore.

I think the only other suggestion I can make is to locate the lab somewhere warm(ish). This would be logical for a tourism-based thing, although less so for a secret, unknown lab. However, you'd save a fortune on heating (or lack of it).


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.