The Thunder Bay 2010 science team consists of members from NOAA and the Applied Research Lab at the University of Texas at Austin, who will search for shipwrecks in Lake Huron. Using an advanced sonar mounted on a REMUS 600 autonomous underwater vehicle (shown in foreground), the team hopes to find shipwrecks in states of preservation similar to the 300-foot long bulk freighter Norman (visible in the background). Click image for larger view and image credit.
Thunder Bay 2010: Cutting Edge Technology
and the Hunt for Lake Huron’s Lost Ships
August 16 – 27, 2010
The Great Lakes are a vast water highway. Over 10,000 years ago, Native American canoes first glided upon the Inland Seas, traveling distances both great and small. European nations later explored the region via water in the 1600s — and fought for it over the next two centuries. Unprecedented growth and prosperity followed as the bounty of raw materials in the America’s Midwest were increasingly extracted and shipped regionally, nationally and across oceans.
As commerce and profits grew, so did the variety and sizes of ships plying the Great Lakes. Tens of thousands of ships made millions of voyages, transforming the region into one of the world’s busiest waterways. Yet, with this extraordinary growth came adversity. Fire, ice, collisions and storms claimed thousands of ships and lives. Nearly 200 pioneer steamboats, majestic schooners, and huge steel freighters wrecked near Thunder Bay alone.
Today, these shipwrecks capture dramatic moments from centuries that transformed America. As a collection, they illuminate an era of enormous growth and remind us of risks taken and tragedies endured. Most significantly, these special places are unique archeological, historical, and recreational sites, frozen in time by the Lakes’ cold, fresh water.
Established in 2000, NOAA’s Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary (Thunder Bay NMS) protects one of the nation’s most historically significant collections of shipwrecks. Located in the northeast corner of Michigan’s lower-peninsula, the 448-square-mile sanctuary contains 40 known shipwrecks. Another 80 known sites are located just outside the sanctuary’s current boundaries. And there are more shipwrecks to be found: archival research indicates that as many as 100 sites still await discovery in northern Lake Huron.
The Thunder Bay 2010 project will survey two areas: one just south of the current sanctuary boundaries and a second one near the Canadian border. In the first area, the team will search for historic shipwrecks within known shipping lanes. In the second area, we’ll look for prehistoric archeological sites that could be over 7,500 years old. Click image for larger view and image credit.
From August 16 to 27, Principal Investigators Russ Green and Charles Loeffler will lead team members from the Thunder Bay NMS and the Applied Research Laboratories at the University of Texas at Austin (ARL:UT) as they set out to discover new shipwrecks sites, using cutting-edge sonar mounted on a free-swimming autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). With the ability to “see” the lake-bottom with a field of vision nearly 10 times the size of traditional side scan sonars, the forward-looking ATLAS (autonomous topographic large area survey) sonar, which was developed by ARL:UT, will allow the team to search more area than ever before, while also creating topographic maps of the lake-bottom. The ATLAS sonar can “see” a swath of lake-bottom nearly 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) wide.
The team’s immediate aim is to discover new shipwrecks sites, but the long-term goal is to provide a rare opportunity for historians, archaeologists, and the public to explore, document, and enjoy one-of-a-kind historic sites, while also protecting them for future generations.
The bow of the 300-foot long bulk freighter Norman, located in 61 m (200 ft) of water in northern Lake Huron. Built in 1890 and sunk in a collision just five years later, the wreck is one of the most impressive in the Great Lakes. The Thunder Bay 2010 project will search for shipwrecks in similar water depths with an eye to discovering wrecks in similar states of preservation. Click image for larger view and image credit.
During the project, the team will also explore a portion of the Alpena-Amberley Ridge, a now submerged land bridge that extends across Lake Huron. Nearly 10,000 years ago, it connected northern Michigan and Canada. Researchers from the University of Michigan’s Museum of Anthropology have been searching the ridge for prehistoric archeological sites. Our team will deploy the ATLAS AUV to determine if it’s the right tool for the job of mapping the ridge and identifying remnants of prehistoric human activity.
Cutting-edge technology will be used above the waves, as well. The team will operate from Thunder Bay NMS headquarters in Alpena, Michigan, using the environmentally friendly and petroleum-free research vessel (R/)V Storm. Built for the United States Coast Guard in the 1990s, the vessel was acquired by NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab (GLERL) and extensively retrofitted and “recycled” in the winter of 2010. The 50-ft “green” research vessel is part of GLERL’s Green Ship Initiative, and now makes its home at the Thunder Bay NMS. In its first year of operation, the bio-diesel vessel has been used by the sanctuary for a wide range of fieldwork, including technical diving, multibeam sonar survey, side scan sonar survey, and a live broadcast from a popular shipwreck site.
The shipwrecks of Thunder Bay are America’s underwater treasures. Protecting them takes a combined effort by the sanctuary, the public, and research partners with big ideas and new technology.
Updates & Logs
Click images or links below for detailed mission logs and updates.
August 18 With yesterday’s sea trial under our belts, the team felt confident heading out to deeper water and further offshore.
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