Maritime Heritage header graphic
North Point's Maritime Cultural Heritage Header

The University of Rhode Island (URI) completed its first season of fieldwork of an anticipated multi-year research project at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  Combining Geographic Information Systems (GIS) development, terrestrial, marine, and remote sensing survey operations, site stability studies, and shipwreck predictive modeling, a seven person crew under the direction of I. Roderick Mather, professor of historical archaeology at URI, spent ten days at TBNMS implementing their research design and gathering baseline data for future research.   A typical day saw crewmembers conducting magnetometer and side scan sonar surveys on the Sanctuary’s new 41-foot research vessel, Huron Explorer, diving on different shipwrecks, becoming buried in historical archives, and incorporating different types of data into GIS.  This year’s field season had four over-arching goals.

fog over Lake Huron
Fog drifts over Lake Huron and a dock as another day of field work begins. (Photo: Roderick Mather)

1. Geophysical Survey and Ground Truthing: Working with TBNMS staff, the URI team used side scan sonar and a magnetometer to survey the North Point Reef.  They also dived to investigate and assess targets that the remote sensing equipment indicated had signatures of a submerged cultural resource.
piece of shipwreck washed ashore
A piece of shipwreck washed ashore on Thunder Bay’s rocky North Point. (Photo: Roderick Mather)

2. Site Stability and Characterization of the Immersed Environment: The URI field crew conducted a series of site environmental assessments on three known shipwreck sites within the sanctuary.  The purpose of these studies was to assess site stability above and below sediments particularly in respect to biological and chemical degradation.  To facilitate this research, the team performed the following: Analyzing small wood samples from the shipwrecks in order to identify and characterize microbial communities; Placing sacrificial wood samples (pine and oak) in both sedimentary and bottom surface environments for controlled recovery (1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year) and subsequent analysis of microbial communities and degradation; chemical and physical characterization of the water column in the immediate vicinity of the selected wrecks; and chemical characterization of the sediment in the vicinity of the selected shipwrecks

3. Pedestrian Coastal Survey: The team took a couple of days to survey, measure, and photograph cultural resources along the shoreline of North Point.

researcher working with GPS
Working with Global Positioning System (GPS). (Photo: Roderick Mather)

4. GIS Development: The process of integrating all data from the field and collected through historical research using GIS was begun and plans for further implementation and staff training discussed.

Since this was only the first year in a proposed multi-year project, URI researcher and scientists are planning on the following in upcoming years:

  • Continue surveys and coverage of TBNMS bottom lands

  • Acquire better understanding of distributional patterns among shipwrecks and shipping lanes in and around TBNMS

  • Monitor sacrificial wood sampling

  • Train sanctuary staff in GIS programming for specific use in the TBNMS

  • Continue evaluation and refining of research methodology and questions to insure most effective data collection and processing involving such a wide array of academic and scientific disciplines, techniques, equipment, and strategies.

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