Mission executed: Phase 3 of research project conducted

News Photos by Jordan Spence Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary Maritime archaeologist Wayne Lusardi and Michigan Tech Great Lakes Research Center Director Guy Meadows watch as an autonomous underwater vehicle starts a mission on Lake Huron, Wednesday.

PRESQUE ISLE — Not all laboratories are found on land, some can be found on the Great Lakes.

This week the third phase of a research project was conducted on Lake Huron by Michigan Tech University and Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

“We started this project as a proposal to (the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) in 2015, we found out we were successful (in securing grants) for the expedition. Here we are in the summer of 2017; it all came to be,” Michigan Tech Great Lakes Research Center Director Guy Meadows said.

Along with Meadows to conduct the research was Michigan Tech marine operations Coordinator Jamey Anderson and research center electronics and computer engineer Chris Pinnow. Also on board the vessel, driven by Capt. Travis Smith, was sanctuary research coordinator John Bright and maritime archaeologist Wayne Lusardi.

Bright said the project received a $181,000 grant from the NOAA Office of Ocean and Exploration Research in 2016. This is the third phase of a larger sanctuary research project.

On the Wednesday expedition the team traveled to two shipwreck sites, the Florida and Typo. The Typo is a schooner that sank in 1899. The Florida was a steamer that sank in 1897.

The team used the IVER 3, an autonomous underwater vehicle, to capture sidescan and bathymetric sonar images.

“We’ve been working with the ocean server IVER 3 for four years. We did a serious upgrade on all of its sensing systems prior to coming to this so we’d be 100 percent successful. We’re really happy with the sidescan sonar records we’re generating. I think they’re unpresented in their definition and their quality and their ability to see features on these wrecks as well as the surrounding territory,” Meadows said.

Because the IVER is autonomous Pinnow monitored and checked the AUV’s path.

“I just need to check the different points it surfaces to make sure it went the distance it was supposed to,” Pinnow said.

He said the AUV travels in a star pattern and they use a timer to follow the time estimates.

“I don’t interact with it, I just follow it,” he said.

Meadows said it travels in a star pattern to identify the ship at various angles.

Sidescan sonar measures the intensity of the reflected echo to build a picture. Meadows said it’s similar to the technology used for ultrasounds. Bathymetric sonar helps to create a topographic 3-D map of the lake floor.

When the team reviewed the sidescan sonars they were happy with the captured images.

“Wow, that is a great scan. That is spot on,” Bright said.

The reason the team conducted these scans was to capture the ships one large picture.

Meadows said they plan to take the images back to Michigan Tech.

“We have a major computing facility in the Great Lakes Research Center. These are enormous data files. Even though what we saw today on the computer screen was startling in terms of resolution, those were quick look images and nothing compared to what the actual resolution is. We’ll producing high quality sonar images of each of these wrecks as well as doing digital elevation maps of the surrounding territory of the wrecks themselves, which will help our partners at the Thunder Bay marine sanctuary identify what ship is what, and look for features not previously known,” Meadows said.

The next and final of the project takes place from mid to late July and involves teams of divers, Bright said.

Jordan Spence can be reached via email at jspence@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687.