Underwater photo of Pac Baroness

An underwater photo of the Pac Baroness, which sank to depths of approximately 1,410 feet of water southwest of Point Conception on Sept. 21, 1987, after colliding with the Atlantic Wing. Click image for larger view. (Photo: Don Barthelmess) Click image for larger view.

Ask an Explorer

Students sent questions to the Sanctuary Quest science party during this expedition. Selected questions and answers are offered below.

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

By Julie Bursek, Education Coordinator
Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

The mission kicks off in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (NMS), where exploring can be very challenging! The boundary of the sanctuary extends out six nautical miles from each of the Channel Islands: Santa Barbara, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel. Ocean depths within the sanctuary boundaries are greater than 100 feet—too deep to be explored by SCUBA divers. Yet these deep-water habitats contain important clues that may help us to understand the overall health of the ecosystem.

Tools like remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), and imaging equipment like side-scan sonar (SSS) have allowed for new opportunities to explore these deeper water habitats. During the Sanctuary Quest Expedition, researchers will use these tools to identify underwater features and to explore the different habitats within these features.

Who knows what researchers will uncover? It is a vast ocean wilderness out there and you never know what could be lurking beneath the waves!

Channel Islands NMS Question

Question asked by students of Room 7, Sixth Grade GATE Victoria Elementary Riverside Unified School District: What are your objectives? What technology will you use to accomplish your objectives in exploring these underwater shipwrecks?

Robert Schwemmer, cultural resources coordinator, Channel Islands NMS responds:

As part of Sanctuary Quest at the Channel Islands NMS, it is our goal to record the sunken remains of the bulk-carrier Pac Baroness. The 531-foot vessel sunk during a collision with the car carrier Atlantic Wing on Sept. 21, 1987. The Pac Baroness was loaded with 21,000 metric tons of finely powdered copper concentrate. The vessel also was carrying 379,000 gallons of fuel and lubricating oils.

Shortly after the loss, a study was conducted using an ROV to determine the environmental effects of the bunker fuels and copper spill. But no further studies were conducted after the initial investigations in 1987 and 1988. During Sanctuary Quest, scientists again will use a deepwater ROV to examine the shipwreck remains. They want to determine what host marine life communities have taken up residence at the site, or if marine life is absent because of the spilled toxic cargo. Aboard the NOAA ship McArthur, scientists will lower a device 1,410 feet (430 meters) down to the seafloor to capture sediment samples. These sediments will be examined for levels of hydrocarbons and analysis of macroinfauna.