NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
July 4 – July 22, 2022
Mission: Hydrographic Survey of Lake Erie
Geographic Area of Cruise: Lake Erie
Date: July 28, 2022
Weather Data from my home office in Dalton, Ohio
Latitude: 40ᵒ 45.5’ N
Longitude: 081ᵒ 41.5’ W
Sky Conditions: Overcast
Visibility: 10+ miles
Wind Speed: 9 miles per hour
Wind Direction: SW
Air Temperature: 74 ᵒF (23 ᵒC)
Relative Humidity: 88%
Future Weather Forecast: Showers likely and 70% possibility of afternoon thunderstorms
Science and Technology Log – and a Little History
Shipwrecks & Sonar
Lake Erie has an astonishing 2,000-plus shipwrecks which is among the highest concentration of shipwrecks in the world. Nobody knows the exact number of shipwrecks that have occurred in Lake Erie, but estimates range from 500 to 2000. Only about 400 of Lake Erie’s wrecks have ever been found. There are schooners, freighters, steamships, tugs and fishing boats among them.
So why does Lake Erie have more known shipwrecks per square foot than most any other body of water – with the possible exception of the English Channel? At its deepest point, Lake Erie is only 210 feet. Its shallowness is one of the reasons so many ships have sunk.
Hydrographers have found their share of ships over the years! I am unable to identify where, however, the TJ found a shipwreck recently. The following shows various multibeam echo sonar images of items found on the seafloor. Not all have been found in Lake Erie. 😊
Side scan sonar is a specialized sonar system for searching and detecting objects on the seafloor. Like other sonars, a side scan sends out sound energy and analyzes the return signal (echo) that bounced off the seafloor or other objects. Side scan sonar typically consists of three basic components: a towfish, a transmission cable and the topside processing unit. In a side scan the energy that is sent out is in the shape of a fan. This fan of energy sweeps the seafloor from directly under the towfish to either side. The width of the fan is about the length of a football field.
The strength of the return echo is recorded creating a “picture” of the ocean bottom. For example, objects or features that stick out from the seafloor create a strong return (creating a light area) and shadows from these objects create little or no return signal (creating a dark area).
NOAA hydrographic survey units use side scan sonar systems to help find and identify objects. The shape of the seafloor and objects can be seen well with a side scan sonar. This technology, however, does not give scientists information with respect to how deep the object is. That is why the side scan sonar is often used along with the multibeam echo sonar.
NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson field work is focused in the Great Lakes for the 2022 field season. Thomas Jefferson’s hydrographers are surveying the floor of Lake Erie in the vicinity of Cleveland, South Bass Island and Presque Isle, PA. They are identifying hazards and changes to the lake floor and will provide this data to update NOAA’s nautical charts to make it safe for maritime travel.
So why did NOAA decide to focus on this part of Lake Erie? “The Port of Cleveland is one of the largest ports on the Great Lakes and ranks within the top 50 ports in the United States. Roughly 13 million tons of cargo are transported through Cleveland Harbor each year supporting 20,000 jobs and $3.5 billion in annual economic activity.” The Office of Coast Survey continues to explain that “most of this area has not been surveyed since the 1940’s, and experiences significant vessel traffic.”
A Little Bit of History – Have you ever been to Put-in-Bay, South Bass Island?
Our National Anthem, a naval officer with the middle name “Hazard”, the War of 1812, and Lake Erie have connections.
So, what does all of this have to do with Lake Erie? In 1812, America found itself at war with Britain. They were at war for three reasons: 1) The British were trying to limit U.S. trade, 2) they were also capturing American seamen and making them fight for the British (this is called impressment), and 3) they did not like the fact that America wanted to expand its territory. Both the British and the Americans were anxious to gain control of Lake Erie. Late in the summer of 1813, American troops were moved into Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island, Lake Erie. They hoped to cut off the supply routes to the British forts.
On the morning of September 10, 1813, British naval forces attacked. Commander Oliver Hazard Perry was on his flagship (a flagship is the ship that carries the commanding officer), the USS Lawrence. (Isn’t “Hazard” a great middle name for someone in the Navy!) He directed his fleet into the battle, but because of light winds, the sailing ships were slow to get into a position where they could fight. His ship suffered heavy casualties. Perry’s second flagship, the USS Niagara, was slow to come into range to help. Four-fifths of Perry’s crew were killed or wounded. He made the decision to surrender his ship, the USS Lawrence, and move his remaining crew and battle flag to the USS Niagara. He was rowed half a mile under heavy fire, bearing his now-famous blue and white battle pennant with the words “Don’t Give Up the Ship.”
The British thought Perry and the rest of the American fleet would retreat after the surrender of the USS Lawrence. Perry, however, decided to rejoin the battle. At 3:00 pm, the British fleet surrendered, marking the first time in history that an entire British naval squadron had surrendered to an American vessel. Huzzah!! Huzzah!!
Perry wrote to General William Henry Harrison (who eventually became the 9th President of the United States):
We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.
Yours with great respect and esteem,
Oliver Hazard Perry was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1814 for his actions in the Battle of Lake Erie and the War of 1812. You can visit Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial on South Bass Island, Lake Erie.
“Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial commemorates the Battle of Lake Erie that took place near Ohio’s South Bass Island, in which Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry led a fleet to victory in one of the most decisive naval battles to occur in the War of 1812.” (Wikipedia)
This video gives you a nice overview of the War of 1812:
Oh, so you might be wondering what all of this has to do with our National Anthem? The poem that eventually became our National Anthem was written during the War of 1812. It was written in 1814 by a young lawyer named Francis Scott Key during the battle of Fort McHenry.
Watch this video for information about Mr. Key and our National Anthem:
Did you know that our National Anthem actually has four verses, but most of us only know the first one? Look it up!
I’ve been part of the mission leg that is surveying off the coast of Presque Isle – as the survey around South Bass Island had been completed prior to me coming aboard. The area around Presque Isle also has important historic roots.
Presque Isle State Park is a 3,200-acre sandy peninsula that arches into Lake Erie and is 4 miles west of Erie, PA. According to a tourist website, “As Pennsylvania’s only “seashore,” Presque Isle offers its visitors a beautiful coastline and many recreational activities, including swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, bicycling, and in-line skating.” Recorded history of Presque Isle began with the Erielhonan, a Native American tribe who gave their name to Lake Erie. Erielhonan is the Iroquoian word for “long tail”. The French first named the peninsula in the 1720s; presque-isle means peninsula or “almost an island” in French. It served as a base for Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s fleet in the War of 1812.
In the 19th century, Presque Isle became home to several lighthouses and what later became a United States Coast Guard station. In 1921, the peninsula became a state park. The Presque Isle peninsula formed because of glaciation and is constantly being reshaped by waves and wind. Since 1967, the park has been named one of the best places in the United States for watching birds.
During the War of 1812, Presque Isle played a part in the victory over the British in the Battle of Lake Erie. Oliver Hazard Perry, commander of the American fleet, made strategic use of the bay as a place to construct six of the nine ships in his fleet. The “Little Bay” near the tip of the peninsula where the ships sheltered was later named “Misery Bay” because of the hardships during the winter of 1813–1814, after the men returned there from battle. Many men suffered from smallpox and were kept in quarantine near the bay. A great many infected men died and were buried in what is now called Graveyard Pond.
After the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813, Perry’s two largest ships, the USS Lawrence and USS Niagara, were badly damaged, and intentionally sunk in Misery Bay. Both ships were eventually raised. The Lawrence burned while on display at the 1876 Centennial Exposition and parts of the Niagara were eventually used to build a replica of the current Niagara, based in Presque Isle Bay.
For the Little Dawgs . . .
Q: Where is Dewey? Hint: This controller is used to move a heavy object.
A: Dewey is sitting on the piece of technology that is used to control the davits. Davits are hydraulic machines that take the small boats on and off the ship.
This time-lapse video shows the crew using the davits to pick up and then redeploy one of the small boat launches. (Video taken by Physical Scientist Dan Garatea)
Human-Interest Poll (HIP)
Miss Parker makes a lot of yummy desserts! I recently asked the crew to list their favorite.
Meet the Crew
Dan Garatea and Surafel Abebe are physical scientists (PS) who work in Silver Spring, MD for NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey (OCS) where they plan hydrographic surveys for chart updates. They research and develop the plans and instructions for NOAA ships, contractors, other governmental agencies, and other interested parties to develop hydrographic priorities. When on board during a survey, they manage and provide guidance for the surveys in the field.
It is nice being home. I do, however, miss the crew aboard Thomas Jefferson. They are now back out surveying on the Lake Erie after a much needed shoreleave. I am having fun thinking about how I will use what I learned during this adventure to enrich the K-8 STEAM curriculum of the Dalton Local School District.