Archive for the ‘National Marine Sanctuaries’ Category

Coast Survey finds historic City of Chester wreck, again   Leave a comment

NOAA announced that one of Coast Survey’s navigation response teams found the underwater wreck of the passenger steamer City of Chester, which sank in 1888 in a collision in dense fog near where the Golden Gate Bridge stands today. City of Chester had just left San Francisco and was headed up the California coast to Eureka with 90 passengers on August 22, 1888, when it was struck by the steamer Oceanic. Impaled on Oceanic, which was arriving from Asia, City of Chester remained afloat for six minutes before sinking. Sixteen people died in the accident.

Navigation Response Team 6 (NRT6) found the wreck in May 2013 while they were conducting regular survey duties for safe navigation, assessing a potential pollution threat from the S.S. Fernstream, a wreck from 1952. Sonar images confirmed that the target was the 202-foot steamship City of Chester, sitting upright, shrouded in mud, 216 feet deep at the edge of a small undersea shoal, rising 18 feet from the seabed.

The City of Chester is shown in NRT6's multibeam image.

The City of Chester is shown in NRT6’s multibeam image.

This NOAA team is not the first to find the shipwreck. Last year, John Cloud (NOAA Library) discovered an unpublished manuscript chart, showing that in 1888 a U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey team used a drag survey from the tugboat Redmond to successfully locate the City of Chester after it sank. Tony Reyer (Office of National Marine Sanctuaries) geo-rectified that manuscript chart onto the modern seascape, and was able to provide NRT6 with the lat/lon coordinates.

The U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey created this chart of the wreck in 1888.

The U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey created this chart of the wreck in 1888.

“Connecting to the history of the Chester is sad in one way, but we were also connecting to scientific history on a different level,” said NRT6 team leader Laura Pagano. “Using our high-tech multibeam echo sounder to re-discover a wreck originally found over a century ago – by Coast Surveyors dragging a wire across the seafloor – is immensely fulfilling.”

“We are equally proud to have provided information on an important link to the rich heritage of the San Francisco Chinese-American community,” Pagano explained.

The rediscovery of the wreck restores an important historical link to San Francisco’s early Chinese-American community. Reports at the time initially criticized Oceanic’s Chinese crew in the racially charged atmosphere of the times. Criticisms turned to praise, however, when the bravery of the crew in rescuing many of City of Chester’s passengers was revealed. The wreck was then largely forgotten.

“Discoveries like this remind us that the waters off our shores are museums that speak to powerful events, in this case not only that tragic wreck, but to a time when racism and anger were set aside by the heroism of a crew who acted in the best traditions of the sea,” said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, whose past work has included documenting historic wrecks in California.

In addition to Pagano, NRT6 is crewed by Edmund Wernicke and Ian Colvert. Vitad Pradith also assisted on the project.

The colors of sound   2 comments

One would be forgiven for thinking that measurements of the ocean floor just produce numbers. It turns out that the data acquired by sound (sonar) can be translated into some truly beautiful graphics. Check out this gorgeous digital terrain model created by Ian Colvert, a physical science technician with Coast Survey’s Navigation Response Team 6. Colvert produced the image file by processing data acquired with the team’s multibeam sonar during a recent hydrographic survey project.

The digital terrain model depicts the wreck of the freighter Fernstream, a 416-foot motor cargo vessel that sank after a collision near the entrance of the San Francisco Bay in 1952. NRT6 surveyed Fernstream as part of a recent study – identifying potential polluting shipwrecks – conducted by the Office of National Maritime Sanctuaries and the Office of Response and Restoration.

This project helps agencies prioritize threats to coastal resources. It also adds to our ability to assess the historical and cultural significance of shipwrecks. And it happens to make some dazzling graphics in the process.

UPDATE, June 26, 2013: We’ve had some requests for more information about the wreck itself. Here’s a chartlet that provides that information.

NRT 6 produced this chartlet for the Fernstream wreck

NRT 6 produced this chartlet for the Fernstream wreck

A nation pays final tribute to Civil War sailors interred at Arlington National Cemetery   1 comment

Last week we blogged about the Civil War sailors whose remains were being interred at Arlington National Cemetery on March 8. The funeral, for unknown sailors who were lost when the USS Monitor capsized, was solemn and stirring, and reflected the nation’s great esteem for our fallen patriots. The unknown sailors were lost along with 14 of their shipmates when Monitor sank off Cape Hatteras, N.C., on Dec. 31, 1862.

All 16 sailors will be memorialized on a group marker in section 46 of the cemetery, which is between the amphitheater and the USS Maine Mast memorial.

Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, Coast Survey’s director, was honored to represent NOAA in the officer escort for the caissons. Glang and Rear Admiral Anthony Kurta (USN) served as Escort Commanders, and were joined by Capt. Gary Clore (Navy Chaplain) and Cmdr. Nathaniel Standquist (U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard), as the nation paid a final tribute.

Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, acting NOAA administrator, spoke at the chapel service preceding the procession and burial. (See NOAA: Remains of USS Monitor sailors interred for highlights of Dr. Sullivan’s remarks.)

Thanks to public affairs officers David Hall (NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations) and Lt. Lauryn Dempsey (U.S. Navy), we are able to provide a photographic montage of the burial ceremony.

Transferring the caskets for funeral procession

After a moving memorial service in the Fort Meyer Chapel, the caskets are transferred for the funeral procession. (Photo: Lt. Lauryn Dempsey, U.S. Navy)

Casket teams position the caskets on the caissons, while the escort team salutes.

Casket teams position the caskets on the caissons, while the escort team salutes. (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)

Caisson platoon members

Members of the elite Caisson platoon at Fort Myer draw the caissons to the burial site. (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)

Officer escorts

Capt. Gary Clore (Navy Chaplain); Rear Admiral Anthony Kurta (USN); Rear Admiral Gerd Glang (NOAA); and Cmdr. Nathaniel Standquist (U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard). (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)

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The funeral procession arrives at the burial site. (Photo credit: David Hall, NOAA)
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After the graveside religious service, casket teams remove the flags from the coffins. (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)

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Folding the flags. (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)

Escort officers and caskets

A final moment. (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)

NOAA Coast Survey director to escort caissons for USS Monitor sailors’ interment at Arlington   2 comments

On Friday, March 8, a NOAA Corps admiral will have the honor of doing something extraordinary. Coast Survey’s director, Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, will be the NOAA Escort Flag Officer for the full honors funeral of two unknown sailors who went down with the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor in 1862. Rear Adm. Glang will join Rear Adm. Anthony Kurta, U.S. Navy, as the two officers escort the caissons during the somber event at Arlington National Cemetery.

The interment will be open to the public.

facial reconstruction of lost sailors

Facial reconstruction of the two sailors found in the Monitor’s turret (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gina K. Morrissette)

The Monitor sank southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, during a New Year’s Eve storm, carrying 16 crew members to their deaths.

The wreck was discovered in 1973, and confirmed in 1974 by John Newton and a team from Duke University. The ironclad was lying upside down with the turret separated from the hull, resting in 230 feet of water approximately 16 miles off Cape Hatteras. In the late 1990s through 2002, experts recovered iconic Monitor artifacts, which are now conserved at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia. Two skeletons were discovered in 2002 when the turret was raised from the seafloor, and efforts to identify the remains have been unsuccessful so far.

To protect this national treasure, Congress created the nation’s first national marine sanctuary. The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1975.

The U.S. Coast Survey was intricately involved in the Civil War, creating the Slave Density Map, making thousands of copies of maps and charts for the war effort, embedding with the Armies and supporting naval operations, writing and distributing Notes on the Coast (which were essential for the blockades), and documenting the war’s successes and failures. Coast Survey had no involvement with the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack (or Virginia), but NOAA historian Albert Theberge tells us that the unpublished autobiography of Joseph Smith Harris, a Coast Surveyor and future railroad magnate of the late 19th century, has an interesting story…

Harris was assigned as the officer-in-charge of the Coast Survey steamer Uncas, which was supposed to be Admiral Farragut’s primary Coast Survey vessel during the bombardment of Fort Jackson and subsequent attack on New Orleans. The Uncas left New York in late February 1862 but had to put into Hampton Roads because of storms and low coal. It was determined at that time that the Uncas was not seaworthy, so Coast Survey secured a second vessel. That vessel, the Sachem, left New York, apparently in company with the Monitor, on March 4, 1862, for Hampton Roads.

The trip was exceedingly stormy. Harris writes:

“Her [Sachem's] captain, a former merchantman, told me of their voyage down… On their way down, probably on the night of March 4th, the Monitor telegraphed to the Sachem to come and take off the crew as the vessel was sinking. Just then the band which encircled the head of the Sachem’s rudder slipped, and the vessel became unmanageable. It took perhaps an hour to secure it, and when the Sachem was laid along side the Monitor, it appeared that the panic was past. A heavy sea had gone down the smokestack, the gas forced out from the furnace had overpowered the engineer and the assistant engineer, and left the engine in the hands of a young man just making his first voyage who became badly scared. By the time an hour had passed the fear had passed too, and they were willing to try their fate further, but the Captain told me that if the rudder band had held the Monitor probably would have been abandoned that night. On how small occurrences great events turn! In that case the Merrimack would have had no competent antagonist, and the Government might have lost control of Hampton Roads. The Captain, whose name I immediately forgot, seemed like a reliable person and I have no doubt he told me the truth.”

Theberge explains that “Harris was not one to embellish his stories, as is shown by his description of what he saw in Hampton Roads” during the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack. “Although Harris reported that he entered Roads on the night of March 9, he apparently erred in his date” as he reports:

“We headed about for Hampton Roads which we reached early on the evening of March 9th. [Theberge points out that this had to have been March 8.] We noticed during the latter part of the night a bright light evidently from a fire ahead and supposed a barn was burning, but it turned out to be the U.S. frigate Congress, set on fire by the C.S. steamer Merrimack, and in the morning about 8:00 A.M. we saw firing from vessels a few miles to the S.E., which I thought was artillery practice of our own vessels, but which was the battle between the Monitor and Merrimack…”

Tomorrow’s interment of the two unknown sailors from the Monitor represents the nation’s enduring commitment to our men and women who serve in uniform. We are proud that Rear Adm. Glang will represent NOAA, the NOAA Corps, the National Ocean Service and Coast Survey in honoring the memory of fallen comrades at sea.

More resources:

Coast Survey Civil War Collection

War Record of J.W. Donn

Coast Survey and Army Operations during the Civil War

NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler submits survey of historic wrecks acquired during test and evaluation operations   Leave a comment

by Lt. Madeleine Adler, NOAA, Navigation Officer, NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler

Three-dimensional model of the seabed in the vicinity of USS New Jersey (north) and USS Virginia (south) created with Hassler multibeam echo sounder data.

NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler recently submitted a multibeam echo sounder survey of two sunken World War I era battleships to the Office of Coast Survey. Hassler, which was commissioned earlier this summer, surveyed the site of these two wrecks while transiting through the area during test and evaluation operations in 2011, and has been using the resulting dataset for calibration purposes since then. Although the wreck locations were well known, they had never been surveyed with modern techniques.

The ships are USS New Jersey and USS Virginia, which were intentionally sunk during aerial bombing experiments in 1923. U.S. Army Colonel Billy Mitchell, a pioneer of military aviation, urged the Navy to investigate the effectiveness of aerial bombing against surface vessels. As part of a series of tests, the Navy anchored the two obsolete “White Fleet” battleships off Cape Hatteras in September 1923 to serve as targets. Bombers under Mitchell’s direction sank both ships in short order. The success of these tests had a significant influence on subsequent development of U.S. air power and air defense for naval vessels.

Hydrographic survey systems require thorough calibration and testing before data can be accepted for application to NOAA nautical charts. New Jersey and Virginia rest in water approximately 100 meters deep, making them excellent test targets for Hassler’s Reson 7111 mid-water depth multibeam echo sounder system. Hassler surveyed the wrecks during a trial voyage from Pascagoula, Miss., to Norfolk, Va., in 2011, and the crew used this dataset and others to calibrate the echo sounder. Hassler’s survey systems are now fully operational, and the survey is ready for submission.

Coast Survey will use the survey of USS New Jersey and USS Virginia to update nautical charts of the area, and NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries personnel will study it to further their understanding of marine archeology and the seafloor in the vicinity of Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.

NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler was commissioned on 8 June 2012, and continues to survey mid-Atlantic coastal waters for charting, fisheries and ocean exploration.

Surveyed wreck site (lower right corner) overlaid on Chart 11555. Site is 16 nautical miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Finding WWII wrecks at sea, now and then   Leave a comment

Coast Survey’s Vitad Pradith (right) offers instruction on the use of the magnetometer, prior to actual deployment. From left to right are team members Pasquale DeRosa, ship’s captain; John Wagner, maritime archaeologist; and Joseph Hoyt, maritime archaeologist.

How do ocean explorers know where to look when they investigate and document the historical secrets of the deep? Well, archaeological expeditions use a myriad of modern surveying technologies. Recently, when NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary was investigating a World War II underwater battlefield site, they called on a surveying expert with NOAA’s Coast Survey to assist.

Vitad Pradith, a physical scientist with Coast Survey’s Navigation Services Division, joined a sanctuary team for a week, to provide ocean depth information for the marine archaeology site off North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Pradith and the sanctuary scientists onboard NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Vessel SRVx combined previous depth soundings with new data acquired by sonar to facilitate safe operations of an autonomous underwater vehicle looking for wreckage in depths exceeding 300 feet.

The team also prepared to follow up on items discovered during the 2011 Battle of the Atlantic Expedition. Pradith trained sanctuary archaeologists to use a magnetometer that will detect metal even if it is buried under the sea floor. With the magnetometer, teams can go back to previous contacts to investigate “items of interest” that were barely distinguishable with sonar. This particular sensor enables scientists to visually map the magnetic fields of the contacts to help discover vessels lost in battle.

COAST SURVEY AND THE ATLANTIC COAST DURING WORLD WAR II

This isn’t the first time that Coast Survey experts are involved in World War II wrecks on the Atlantic Coast. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Coast and Geodetic Survey expanded rapidly and devoted virtually all of its resources to the successful prosecution of the war effort. They provided ships, personnel and, of course, charts.

“At the beginning of WWII, the C&GS annually produced about 800,000 nautical and aeronuatical charts, and related products,” explains Albert ‘Skip’ Theberge, a noted NOAA historian. “The comparable figures for the last year of the war were approximately 23 million publications. These included the normal suite of domestic nautical and aeronautical charts, but then the agency added aeronautical charts of foreign territories, target charts for aerial bombing, and other special charts.”

Two of those special charts, produced by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1942, were classified “restricted” — for purposes of anti-submarine warfare — until they were declassified in 1982. Bottom characteristics were mapped by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for the National Research Defense Committee and overlaid on Coast and Geodetic Survey charts. The sunken ship locations, determined by C&GS, were also noted on the charts. See:

Theberge points out that “because of enemy submarine attacks, the Atlantic coast was strewn with shipwrecks that constituted major hazards to navigation. They were also mistaken for potential submarines ‒ thus the need to chart their location both for navigation and defense purposes.”

“In 1943 and 1945, USC&GS surveyors used a primitive sidescan system, coupled with an early marine magnetometer, camera system, and recording fathometer for locating and identifying wrecks,” he says. “The project’s primary objective was to develop methods for anti-submarine warfare but it also served as a model for modern hydrographic search methods.”

Capturing the seafloor’s rich history while positioning America for the future   Leave a comment

Coast Survey’s Navigation Response Team 4 is conducting a year-long survey of the sea floor in the Port of Houston and Galveston Bay navigational areas, re-measuring ocean depths and searching for dangers to navigation. Coast Survey will use the data to update future nautical charts to help mariners protect lives and increase shipping efficiencies. Recently, the team also found an opportunity where they could support marine archeological preservation.

Last week, the navigation team worked with federal and state partners who help us understand the rich history – and the secrets of human sorrows – lying on the seafloor. In collaboration with NOAA’s Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and the Texas Historical Commission’s Marine Archeology Division, the navigation response team — with the State Marine Archeologist onboard —  re-mapped the location of two historically significant wrecks. (Some of the data was collected under an antiquities permit, as Texas requires for investigating historic shipwrecks in state waters.)

“With the often-shifting sediment around here, there are periods of covering and uncovering, so archeologists like to periodically map historically significant wrecks to see what’s changed,” explained Nick Forfinski, the navigation response team’s leader. “We were ‘in the neighborhood,’ surveying for maritime commerce, and we were able to obtain up-to-date images of the wrecks while we were here.”

The steamship City of Waco is one of the historical wrecks that Forfinski’s crew was asked to survey. The steamship burst into flames and sank on Nov. 8, 1875, and 56 people died. The sunken ship was ordered to be demolished in 1900, to protect navigation in the area.

“The collaboration between NOAA experts and the Texas Historical Commission brings a unique combination of expertise and resources to learning more about the hidden history in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Texas State Archeologist Pat Mercado-Allinger. “We are grateful to the NOAA Team for this opportunity to remap this historically important shipwreck.”

Forfinski’s team captured some fascinating images of the City of Waco, created from data they gathered during last week’s hydrographic survey.

CityOfWaco_Multibeam

This image was created from data acquired by NRT4’s multibeam echo sounder. NOAA hydrographic survey units use multibeam echo sounder systems to acquire full (and partial) bottom bathymetric coverage, to measure depths over critical items such as wrecks, obstructions, and dangers-to-navigation, and for general object detection.

CityOfWaco_Sidescan

This image was created from data acquired by NRT4’s side scan sonar. A side scan creates a “picture” of the ocean bottom. For example, objects that protrude from the bottom create a light area (strong return) and shadows from these objects are dark areas (little or no return), or vice versa, depending on operator preference.

Using hydrographic surveys for multiple purposes, like “piggybacking” wreck mapping on to a navigation safety project, makes for smart resource sharing. It positions America for the future while helping to preserve its past.

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